To commemorate World AIDS Day held each year on December 1, we are highlighting Dr. Elizabeth Bukusi’s HIV research in Kenya! Dr. Bukusi is one of the foremost advocates for HIV care. She has conducted various studies in evaluating treatment options for high-risk populations. In one of her recent studies, she explored the value of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and the antibiotic doxycylcine (dPEP) as an STI prevention strategy in African women taking PrEP, PrEP, or HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, has been used over the past decade to prevent against HIV, however, there has also been a rising incidence of curable STIs in populations taking PrEP. The disproportionate risk that African women face from overlapping HIV-STI epidemics makes them an essential study population. dPEP is beneficial because it can be “woman-controlled,” meaning that the effectiveness is not determined by partner participation, and that it’s been shown to be safe for women. Dr. Bukusi predicts that dPEP will lead to a substantial reduction in the amount of curable STIs, including one of the most common and most morbid STIs, C. trachomatis. To monitor the concern of antibiotic resistance and evaluate dPEP as a treatment, their study was framed under three aims: understanding how dPEP compares to standard care, evaluating the risks of dPEP in terms of safety, acceptability, adherence, and resistance, and understanding the cost impact of administering dPEP. If results follow as expected, her study will help create and implement an innovative and low-cost strategy to reduce the incidence of curable STIs in high-risk populations.
Another study she helped conduct investigated the effectiveness of Lopinavir based ART for HIV infected children globally. Treatments for children with HIV are difficult as young children may have difficulty swallowing pills or may not be safe. Storage of the treatment may be challenging as well, as many drugs require refrigeration. Researchers have combined lopinavir and ritonavir (LPV/rtv) in small pellets to introduce as an alternative to liquid medicine with studies showing promising results.
Dr. Bukusi is an inspiration for many as she gave the keynote N’Galy-Mann lecture at the 2018 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. She spoke in an interview about her inspiration to work in the field of HIV, remembering how she saw many anemic children when was a young medical officer working in the border town of Kenya and Uganda and more than half of the donated blood had to be wasted because the donors were HIV positive. She saw how being HIV positive was “synonymous with a death sentence,” and knew that she wanted to make a difference. Her commitment to hard work even earned her the nickname “Kenya’s Strongest Professor” after she competed in the 2019 finals of the Kenya Strongest Man Competition in October. She continues to be extremely dedicated leader in and outside of reproductive health, teaching her team to go the extra step and push beyond their capabilities to make a difference as a community!