New ARV drug brings hope for HIV/AIDS patients
Windhoek – The long-awaited new antiretroviral (ARV) drug known as triple Fixed Dose Combination (FCD) tablet has finally reached Namibia and is expected to save lives of thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS. The HIV/AIDS pandemic remains a major concern in Namibia. The country ranks among the 10 countries with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world.
In 2010/11, HIV prevalence among people aged 15 to 49 years was estimated at 13.5 percent, resulting in around 4 500 AIDS-related deaths in 2010/11 (approximately 18 percent of all deaths in Namibia).
However, the introduction of FCD in the local market is expected to have a major impact on the quality of lives of people living with HIV in the country. The new drug was introduced on October 3, 2013, in Windhoek at an event attended by medical practitioners in the country. The event was organised by one of the country’s biggest medical equipment suppliers, ErongoMED.
As a key speaker of the event, Dr Andrew Reid from University of Zimbabwe said the introduction of triple Fixed-Dose Combination in Namibia, and Southern Africa in general, was a milestone and important development in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
He noted that the new drug comes with more advantages compared to the old system.
He explained that the new drug would also help reduce patient pill burdens and improve adherence.
“The main difference between FDC and the current ART (antiretroviral therapy) treatment is that these patients will take one pill once a day that works the same as taking three or more pills multiple times a day,” he said.
Dr Reid said the new FDC antiretroviral single tablet ‑ a combinations of tenofovir (TDF), emtricitabine (FTC) and efavirenz (EFV) ‑ is easy to take, highly effective with few side effects and that patient will also have to undergo fewer laboratory tests once a patient is on treatment. “Apart from the reduction on the doses of pills to one pill a day, this also means that there will be reduction on logistics and storage but most importantly is that it (FDC) has a major benefit for patients in terms of compliance,” he said.Dr Reid said many people lose lives because they miss some of the pills but that FDC would solve this problem. Despite the high cost to some individuals, “FDC is very important for people living with HIV because it brings an additional extra-ordinary benefit for pregnant women who are HIV positive, as this will help eliminate mother-to-child transmission.
“The benefit is that there won’t be transmission of HIV from mother to child, as they will be protected through the mother taking this type of ARV,” he said.
He said once available in state health centres, all HIV-positive pregnant women ‑ regardless of their CD4 count ‑ will start FDC from 14 weeks of pregnancy and continue throughout the breastfeeding period. Following the breast-feeding period, women with CD4 counts less than 350 will continue on FDC for life.
Apart from that FDC, will also bring benefits for health care workers. Dr Reid said it would be easy to order, store and manage than the current programme. The logistics around supply chain management will also be simplified. “Health workers themselves, who are recently trained in the initiation and management of ART, will have a simpler training curriculum and daily work. Relationships with patients may improve with a regimen that is easier to explain and manage,” Dr Reid said.
Unlike other countries in the region such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, the Fixed Dose Combination drug is currently available in the private sector only. In late 2012, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, announced that FDC antiretroviral therapy would be used in the first line treatment of HIV-positive patients from April 1, 2013.
The new drug is said to be cheaper than the current regimen. For instance, the National Department of Health of South Africa managed to negotiate a price between R89 and R95 a month for the treatment of a single patient, compared to R150 a month in 2010.