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Confusion & Controversy Over AIDS Drug Nevirapine - 2004-02-12

There was controversy and confusion this week over the AIDS fighting drug Nevirapine. The drug has been successfully used to prevent the transmission of HIV, the AIDS virus, from mothers to their newborns. This is known as mother-to-child transmission.

However, a report this week from an AIDS conference in San Francisco said the drug could adversely affect later AIDS treatment for the mother. The report said HIV could become resistant in women who’ve taken Nevirapine. For a scientific look at the controversy, English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Professor Jerry Coovadia, an AIDS researcher at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine at the University of Natal.

Professor Coovadia was also co-chair of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban. He says Nevirapine is “absolutely effective. And not only is it effective, it’s a very simple regimen to provide to developing countries. It has been used, I think, in many, many thousands of children throughout the developing world and has proven to be quite effective. In other words, it saved the lives of thousands of children from being HIV infected. In fact, some of the effects are so good, that it’s almost as good as a moderately active vaccine. In other words, the kids that don’t get infected remain uninfected.”

Professor Coovadia says it has been known for a long time that HIV could become resistant in women who have taken Nevirapine. What was new, he says, is that it could affect the women’s subsequent treatment. However, professor Coovadia says it appears that resistance may fade up to one year later. He suggests continued use of the drug, but continued monitoring of its use. He believes international health organizations will also soon endorse its continued use.

He says newspaper headlines in South Africa this week suggesting women were being put at risk were “scare tactics that served no useful purpose.”

Click above links to listen or download interview with professor Coovadia.