A new drug to combat the transfer of HIV from mother to child will be introduced next month in a two-year research program funded by the French government and conducted by the French National Agency for Research on AIDS.
Minister of Health Hong Sun Huot, French Ambassador Andre-Jean Libourel, and the research agency’s director, Michel Kazatchkine, signed the agreement Tuesday to begin two studies, costing around $350,000, that would seek treatment suitable for Southeast Asian HIV patients.
“It is our project for the year 2000,” said Hong Sun Huot at the signing.
Michel Kazatchkine said Tuesday that Cambodian mothers have one of the highest incidence of AIDS/HIV infection in the region.
“In active maternity hospitals in Phnom Penh about 3 percent of mothers test positive for the virus, whereas in Vietnam it is less than 1 percent.”
In one study, the new drug, Nevirapine, which so far has only been run in trials in Uganda, will be administered along with AZT, a well-established AIDS drug, to pregnant mothers and their new-born babies to see if it can halt the spread of the disease from mother to child.
The second study will focus on rare cases of immunity to the HIV virus among Cambodians.
Research in the developed world has shown that the best chance of halting the transfer of the virus from the pregnant mother to her child is when the mother accepts AZT treatment before the 36th week of her pregnancy.
But in Cambodia most mothers do not seek treatment until the final weeks of their pregnancy, when it is too late to take the anti-viral AZT treatment. It is hoped that the combination of AZT and Nevirapine will be effective.
The cost of the treatment, which in the research stage is covered by the French government, will be between $5 and $20 for each mother.
Post-project funding of treatment to mothers would come under discussion later.
Michel Kazatchkine stressed that it was not simply a matter of bringing drugs and procedures from the West and using them in Cambodia because there have been no studies on the effects and behavior of the virus in Southeast Asian victims.
“We still do not know enough about transmission and drug tolerance from our studies, so it is urgent that we develop new strategies in Southeast Asia that work and that are affordable,” he said.
A similar agreement with Vietnam will be signed at the end of the week in Ho Chi Minh City between the research agency, the French government and the Vietnamese health minister.