DURBAN, South Africa--(BUSINESS WIRE)--On Tuesday, 08 December, Times Live published an article titled “Drug to prevent HIV gets the official nod”, in which the term “Truvada whore” is falsely attributed to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). The article is filled with inaccuracies and misinformation which the organisation wishes to set straight.
The article notes, “The same foundation [AHF] flew to South Africa to campaign against the drug at the Durban June Aids [sic] conference saying Africans would not take it properly.” Contrary to what the author implies, AHF has been operating HIV clinics in South Africa since 2002. Working in partnership with the Department of Health, AHF South Africa supports 56 clinics in 3 provinces. Ithembalabantu clinic was opened in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal and was one of the first in the country to provide antiretroviral (ARV) medication to the public free of charge. AHF SA is about to mark a milestone 15 years providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy in SA, with a staff compliment of more than 200 people providing life-saving ARVs to over 70 000 patients on a monthly basis.
AHF is a global organisation with staff in 36 countries and some of those staff attended the SA AIDS Conference in June. It must be noted that the majority of AHF conference participants were from the South African programme, representing AHF on panels addressing gender-based violence in addition to the satellite session on PrEP.
The AHF satellite session on PrEP alluded to in the article consisted of staff from our African Bureau, AHF SA clients and the AHF Medical director Dr. Bright Mhlongo. US-based Truvada advocate Jim Pickett and Gilead representatives did fly in from the US to promote the drug. Ironically, it is PrEP advocates themselves who have chosen the label “Truvada whores”, as the image published in the article illustrates.
AHF’s focus at the conference was the promotion of the ‘Test & Treat’ methodology which has recently been adopted as the global standard by the World Health Organisation. After years of working at a grass-roots level in South Africa and 10 other African countries, AHF has consistently found that the most effective method to halt new HIV infections is to initiate HIV positive people onto ARVs, support them to adhere to the medication and ensure that their viral loads are undetectable. Sound management of HIV+ people renders them 96% less likely to transmit the virus. Recognising that 3 million South Africans still don’t know that they have HIV, ‘Test & Treat’ as a public health intervention, when combined with consistent condom use is most likely to bring down new infections.
It is worth noting that AHF supports the licensing of Truvada for HIV prevention. The drug is regularly prescribed by our clinicians in the United States for sero-discordant couples. Due to the lack of protection from STIs and pregnancy AHF SA does not promote the use of PrEP as part of the public health sector HIV intervention beyond targeted populations including sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Lastly, Times Live quoted AHF out of context, saying “Africans would not take it [PrEP] properly.” In fact, the Fem-PrEP study quoted by AHF Africa Bureau Chief Dr. Penninah Iutung Amor during her presentation had to be suspended due to low adherence – AHF was simply including data from that study in their presentation.
Katharine Child, the journalist to whom the article is attributed, made no attempt to reach AHF SA for comment. When asked for a response to the article, Dr. Mhlongo, AHF SA Medical Director and SA AIDS Conference satellite session panellist noted, “This is a sad indictment on the state of journalism in South Africa. AHF promotes good health through good science. We are governed by Department of Health Guidelines on clinical matters, putting the health and well-being of our patients first. The implication that this Zulu man jetted in from the US is laughable. I presented based on what I see every day in Umlazi.”
ABOUT THE AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION (AHF)
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare provider in the world. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 500 000 individuals in 36 countries.