Researchers To Start HIV Prevention Study

Researchers will begin recruiting 960 sex workers next month to take part in tests to determine whether drugs used to treat HIV infection can also prevent it, medical officials said.

During the year-long study, sex workers, considered at risk for contracting HIV, will be given an anti-retroviral drug, tenofovir, or a placebo, said Dr Ly Penh Sun of the National Center for HIV/ AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Researchers will recruit HIV-negative participants from a medical clinic run by the center that is overseeing the research, technical bureau director Ly Penh Sun said.

However, the planned research has already caused controversy amid fears that the study could be interpreted as a green light for others to use ARV drugs instead of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS.

Cambodia is one of the few countries where people can buy ARVs on the street, said the World Health Organization’s Dr Vero­nique Bortolotti.

Still, though their costs could de­cline, ARV drugs are currently too expensive—at $1.30 per pill—for the average Cambodian sex worker to take casually, Bortolotti said. The drugs also may be dangerous if taken haphazardly.

If ARVs are not consistently used, patients can develop resistance to the drugs as with antibiotics, she said.

Participants in the study will receive regular counseling en­couraging them to use condoms, Ly Penh Sun said.

If a participant in the study does contract HIV during the tests, they will immediately be tak­en off tenofovir and will be referred to hospitals and NGOs for treatment, Bortolotti said.

Six researchers from the Aus­tra­l­ian University of New South Wales and the US Univer­sity of Cal­­­ifornia, San Francisco, ar­rived last year to prepare for the $1 million study funded by the Bill and Me­­­l­inda Gates Foundation and US National Institutes of Health.

Similar studies are planned in Cameroon, Ghana, Ni­ger­ia, and in the US states of Cal­i­fornia and Georgia, according to a re­port in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


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