PrEP use linked to fewer new HIV infections: medical researcher

TAIPEI (CNA) – The number of new human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) infections in Taiwan last year dropped below 2,000 for the first time in six years, and the drop is due to the use of Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention strategy that involves a cocktail of drugs, a Taipei hospital researcher said yesterday.

Lin Hsi-hsun (林錫勳), a professor at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s Department of Medical Research, said the total number of new HIV infections in 2018 was 1,993, which fell below 2,000 for the first time since 2012.

Taiwan began importing PrEP drugs in 2016 and began implementing a wide PrEP program that same year.

The PrEP is like an “edible condom,” which can not only directly protect the users themselves and reduce the risk of infection, but also indirectly reduce the rates of HIV transmission, Lin said.

As a result of the treatment of people with a high risk of infection with PrEP, the number of new infections in Taiwan are growing at a slower pace, Lin noted.

PrEP is a HIV prevention strategy that uses HIV medicines to lower a person’s chance of getting infected with the virus, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Citing HIV as an important issue around the world, Lin said statistics showed that everyday in 2017 nearly 5,000 people around the world were newly infected with HIV.

Apart from the many strategies that are used to combat HIV transmission, including sexual abstinence, limiting sexual intercourse with only one partner, using condoms for the entire duration of intercourse and male circumcision, providing different medications for different people is also an indispensable part of preventing and treating the disease, Lin pointed out.

In addition to the treatment of HIV-infected pregnant women to prevent vertical transmission or the immediate administration of anti-viral drugs for accidental exposure of the virus, there has also been in recent years the administration of PrEP given to those deemed to be in high-risk groups that have not yet been infected, Lin said.

He pointed out said that a clinical trial in France found that subjects who received PrEP had an 86 percent reduction in the risk of HIV infection compared to a placebo-controlled group, and that after the implementation of a PrEP prevention strategy in New South Wales, Australia, the number of new infections decreased by 25% between 2015 and 2017.

According to statistics from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control, there are a total of 38,278 people living with HIV on the island, as of the end of February.

By Chang Ming-hsuan and William Yen