Researcher aims to reduce HIV presentation rates in WA

A man smiles at the camera. Trays of medical equipment are in the background.
Sexual Health Physician and Researcher Dr Lewis Marshall
August 8, 2018

Reducing the number of HIV presentations by providing access to vital medication is Sexual Health Physician Dr Lewis Marshall’s aim in a statewide implementation research study.

Dr Marshall is part-way through the study which has focused on creating strategies and disseminating a co-formulated pill of the medications Tenofovir and Emtricitabine.

“We know the medication works. We just need to get the logistics right and get men who have sex with other men onto the medication,” Dr Marshall said.

“We ask suitable participants to take the medication once daily and then present for follow up every three months, this has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 per cent.”

Dr Marshall said early indicators showed the strategy has been successful with a drop in HIV presentations.

“From what we can see so far, HIV rates in WA have dropped from 88 new cases in 2016 to 68 in 2017,” he said.

“There is still no cure for HIV but there is very effective treatment to manage the condition and this is really having an effect on the community.”

The study is also looking at the impact of this medication on the rates of gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia.

“By reducing the risk of contracting HIV, we need to determine the effect of increased sexually transmitted infections and anecdotally we are seeing a surge,” Dr Marshall said.

“In having participants monitored every three months, we hope to catch any infections early, to treat them and reduce the spread of infection amongst the community.”

To date, Dr Marshall and his team at Fremantle Hospital’s South Terrace Clinic have recruited 90 patients to the study, with the hope of getting to150 by the time recruitment finishes in September.

Dr Marshall said he was passionate about undertaking research as maintaining best practice was crucial in providing the best patient care.

“Research is a critical function and must instruct everything we do to ensure we are continuously improving patient outcomes,” he said.

When the trial ends in April 2019, the drug will be available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and patients will still be encouraged to attend sexual health clinics for three monthly monitoring.

The study was initiated by the Department of Communicable Diseases control branch and has been coordinated by the Kirby Institute.