International study led by UKZN professor confirms effectiveness of PrEp in HIV negative pregnant women

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An international study led by UKZN's Professor Dhayendre Moodley has confirmed the safe use of PrEP in pregnant women not living with HIV.
An international study led by UKZN's Professor Dhayendre Moodley has confirmed the safe use of PrEP in pregnant women not living with HIV.
Getty/ LWA/Dann Tardif
  • A study led by a UKZN professor has confirmed the safe use of PrEp in pregnant HIV negative women.
  • Until 2019, pregnant women in South Africa were excluded from receiving the treatment due to a lack of evidence on its effectiveness.
  • Pregnant women are at a higher risk of HIV infection due to hormonal changes and unprotected sex, among other things.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal's (UKZN) Professor Dhayendre Moodley has led an international study that confirms the safe use of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate/emtricitabine as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in pregnant HIV negative women.

Until 2019, pregnant and lactating women in South Africa did not receive the PrEP roll-out due to a lack of safety data on its use in pregnancy.

Unprotected sex and hormonal changes, among other factors, expose pregnant women to a higher risk of HIV infection.

This was despite a 2018 study which found that women in two prevention studies were nearly three times more likely to become infected with HIV during pregnancy and four times as likely six months post-partum compared with the risk of HIV infection at other times, the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said.

The recent study – funded by various institutions, including Gilead Sciences and the SAMRC, as well as scientists from the universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Stellenbosch, Witwatersrand and Southampton in the United Kingdom – examined the impact of the treatment on pregnant women.

The researchers said:

Our findings suggest that initiation of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine PrEP in pregnancy does not increase the occurrence of preterm birth, small for gestational age, or any adverse pregnancy outcome.

"Moreover, this study is likely to be the last clinical trial comparing PrEP with no PrEP, and provides a valuable benchmark for adverse pregnancy outcomes for future planned studies of novel PrEP strategies."

"HIV and AIDS remain a significant problem in South Africa, where women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of HIV. We need to double down on interventions that can work. PrEP in pregnancy is the first step in preventing HIV in women and critical in our battle to eradicate HIV in children," said SAMRC president and CEO Professor Glenda Gray, who was one of the experts involved in the study.

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