Image: Dr Anna Hearps
A Burnet Institute collaborative study recommends improved monitoring of people on therapy to address high levels of transmitted HIV drug resistance in recently infected individuals in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The study, published in PLOS One, found levels of drug resistance in antiretroviral drug naïve individuals recently infected with HIV in Port Moresby and Mount Hagen to be ‘among the highest reported globally’.
Co-author Dr Anna Hearps said it’s important to determine whether drugs in the first line regimen are still effective for the population that they’re being applied to.
“If not, then a change in the first line regimen drugs may need to be considered, to make sure that HIV remains effectively treated,” Dr Hearps said.
“But what this really highlights is the need for better monitoring of people with HIV to make sure they stay on effective therapy and don’t develop drug resistance, which they could then transmit to other people.
“There are many barriers in PNG which make it difficult for people to access and maintain their HIV therapy, but unfortunately if you don’t take your drugs regularly, you risk developing resistance, and that’s a problem for both the individual and the population as a whole.”
The study focused on recently infected individuals aged 30 years or younger, both male and female, who reflected the general HIV infected population in PNG.
They were members of the general population presenting to HIV treatment and testing clinics, one in urban Port Moresby, and the other in Mount Hagen in the PNG Highlands.
Dr Hearps said the next step should be to expand the study and refine the target population.
“There are a lot of different regions in PNG that are geographically quite distinct, so it’s important to figure out whether this is only happening in these certain areas or whether it’s widespread throughout the country,” she said.
“And as CD4 testing is becoming more widely available, we can get a better target population of recently infected people to further define this transmitted drug resistance figure.
“It’s important to confirm these findings in a larger, more targeted study.”
PNG has the highest prevalence of HIV among Pacific Island nations at an estimated 0.8 percent of the population aged 15-49 years in 2016, according to UNAIDS.