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By: Otto Ngoveni

The University of Venda will be one of 7 universities that will form part of a joint trial of a new HIV-prevention pill.

It is said that Truvada is an antiretroviral pill that could reduce the risk of contracting HIV by at least 90% if taken daily.

This drug will be given to students as part of a joint trial by the Health and Higher Education and Training Departments’ HIV and AIDS (HEAIDS) national programme that was announced last Tuesday.

The pills will also be available at the Universities of Rhodes, Nelson Mandela, Limpopo, Free State and Zululand.

In South Africa, this will be the first time Truvada will be provided to young people, after the South African Medicines Control Council had approved the use of the drug back in 2015.

In recent years, Truvada has formed part of pilot studies at clinics for gay and bisexual men and to some HIV-negative sex workers.

According to the director of HEAIDS, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, young women between the ages of 15 and 25 are the most at risk of contracting HIV. He claimed that the rate of transactional sex was very high in these age groups.

He further said that many young women at universities were also involved in prostitution or used alcohol or drugs that put them at high risk of contracting HIV.

“And the condom uptake is low, which is why they are good candidates for this rollout,” said Ahluwalia.

He further explained that the aim was that any young student at these universities who felt they were at risk of HIV would be able to access the drug.

Only HIV-negative students will be allowed to use this treatment as the drug cannot be taken if the student tests positive. Counselling and medical tests will be done before a student can begin treatment.

Truvada is a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) prescription pill that contains active ingredients that block the reverse transcriptase enzyme in HIV-negative people. This is the enzyme that is used by HIV-infected cells to make new viruses. Since Truvada inhibits or reduces the activity of the enzyme, this drug causes HIV-infected cells to slow down or stop producing new viruses.

Ahluwalia warned, however, that Truvada on its own would not reduce the risk of contracting HIV/Aids and that it must always be used together with safer sex practices and the correct use of condoms. Truvda will also not reduce the risk of contracting other sexually transmitted deceases such as herpes.

“Truvada has enormous potential to spare thousands of young South Africans from the HIV epidemic‚ but only if it is used properly‚ consistently and responsibly. That is why we are working closely with universities‚ the Department of Health and the clinics to ensure students are properly informed on how PrEP works‚ and what is required for it to remain effective‚” Concluded Ahluwalia.