Charities urge caution over new pill that “protects” against HIV

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An antiretroviral treatment undergoing trials could reduce the risk of HIV infection, but reports of a new wonder drug are far off the mark, according to leading sexual health charities.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, significantly reduces the chance of infection, but there is already concern that it could be viewed as an end to the need to use condoms.

The drugs are already used to treat HIV+ people in the form of highly antiretroviral therapy (HAART) where they inhibit the virus and prevent the onset of AIDS.

“There’s a lot of buzz about PrEP,” Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the US National Institutes of Health, told the New Scientist.

“There’s some cautious optimism that this will work.”

Sexual health charities are also cautious.

Lisa Power, Corporate Head of Policy for Terrence Higgins Trust told

“It’s important to know that recent reports about human trials on the ‘a pill to protect against HIV’ are still underway.

“Results aren’t expected until 2009 and 2010, so it’s too early to know if they will work.

“Even if the trials are successful, these pills won’t be a replacement for condoms. Condoms are still the easiest and most effective way to protect yourself from HIV and there’s no sign this will change in the near future.”

Joe Murray, Policy Officer at the National AIDS Trust, said there were unanswered questions.

“Scientists are researching many ways to prevent HIV,” he told

“PrEP, which is effectively antiretroviral treatment taken to reduce the risk of HIV infection, is one of the most promising new prevention tools being looked at.

“However there are still many questions unanswered – who would take the treatment, how regularly, how will the PrEP affect people’s treatment options if they do end up getting HIV?

“So while advances in trials are promising it may be a long time before anything becomes available.

“Condoms are still the best way to protect against HIV when having sex, PrEP would not change that.”