HIV activists have expressed their dismay at the sluggish adoption of newly approved HIV prevention methods, such as the dapivirine vaginal ring and the cabotegravir injection, in African countries,” remarked Winnie Byanyima, the UNAIDS Executive Director.
She was speaking at a meeting in Kampala during the launch of a new manifesto aimed at advocating for more choices, particularly for women.
“While studies proving the efficacy of these innovations were partly conducted here, the methods remain unavailable, limiting options for girls and young women who continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV,” Byanyima lamented.
She urged drug manufacturers like VIIV Healthcare, the makers of the long-acting injection, to make these products available to countries producing generics to ensure affordability in Africa.
VIIV Healthcare responded, saying, “VIIV, thank you for emphasizing the urgency of making these life-saving technologies accessible.”
For example, in Uganda, the only available pre-exposure prophylaxis method is still oral PrEP, as regulatory approvals for the injection and the vaginal ring have not yet been granted, despite the World Health Organization’s approval of both methods.
Byanyima voiced her concerns about this slow progress, citing data indicating that offering women choices and implementing gender equality programs could reduce HIV infection rates by more than 50%. She noted that in some countries, there is a lack of political will to adopt such options.
“The options should be available, accessible, and embraced by all who need them, especially young women who may not have the power to negotiate safe sex,” she emphasized.
Moreover, Byanyima pointed out that comprehensive sexual education is still lacking, contributing to a lack of HIV knowledge among young people. Her comments followed the release of the Demographic Health Survey 2022 results by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, highlighting gaps in access to HIV-related information.
Dr. Nelson Musoba, the Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, discussed their strategy to address these issues. He stated that they are altering their communication approach to tailor messages to address the unique challenges faced by different groups. Musoba also disclosed that plans to introduce the dapivirine ring and the HIV injectable drug in Uganda are in advanced stages.
However, funding for the dapivirine ring remains uncertain. The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), one of the country’s major HIV funders, does not currently support the product. While speaking at the meeting, Dr. Mary Borgman, PEPFAR’s Coordinator in Uganda, clarified that they would not procure microbicides like the ring but might allocate funds for awareness campaigns.
In the newly launched manifesto, Lillian Mworeko, who leads the NGO International Community of Women Living with HIV East Africa, called on governments to make commitments that extend beyond reliance on donor funding. She emphasized that governments in Africa must prioritize preventing new infections among women and girls.
“This is a call to action for governments to take responsibility and invest in the health and well-being of women and girls,” Mworeko emphasized.
While their primary focus is on government involvement, she also urged the private sector to participate in providing prevention options for women who can afford them.
“The approach is inclusive, involving both government and the private sector to cater to the diverse needs of women,” she concluded.