Hope in HIV fight as cheaper drug is introduced

Oct 06, 2017
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Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek – Namibia’s Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Benard Haufiku has described the price reduction of HIV drugs to $75 per person per year as a move in the right direction, saying apart from making it simpler for people to stay on treatment, it will also help address the rising threat of resistance to standard Aids drugs.

The drug would be introduced in Namibia next year, Haufiku said.

The state-of-the-art medication, widely used in rich countries and had until recently been too expensive for most low and middle-income countries, is a combination of three antiretroviral  drugs — tenofovir, emtricitabine and efavirenz. It contains dolutegravir, works faster and has fewer side effects and demonstrates greater potency against drug resistance than standard HIV drugs used in Africa and other poor countries.

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS),  dolutegravir is already being used on a limited basis as a single drug in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Michel Sidibé, head of UNAIDS, made an announcement on the introduction of the new drug to poor countries during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.

Sidibe said the pill will be offered as a first-line treatment, and the hope is that its powerful suppression of HIV, low toxicity, and ease of use will make it simpler for people to stay on treatment for their lifetimes and reduce the chances of ARV resistance emerging. The other two ARVs in the cocktail are lamivudine and tenofovir, both of which are already in widespread use.

Sidibe said the reduction of the price would help speed efforts to offer treatment to all 37 million HIV-infected people in the world. Globally only 19.5 million patients get antiretroviral therapy to keep their disease in check.

The SADC region remains the area most affected by the HIV epidemic of which 34 percent reside in SADC countries.

Namibia is one of the African countries enjoying remarkable coverage of life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, with about 90 percent of Namibians living with HIV and Aids receiving ARVs from the state.

According to the WHO 2013 global update on HIV treatment, Namibia is ranked among the top African countries in ARV delivery.

Haufiku said the new pill would greatly benefit patients due to its greater therapeutic qualities and that the price would make it easier for the government to expand on its ARV coverage at an affordable price.

He said currently, the states spends about N$1 000 every month on a single person for HIV treatment. By the end of last year, about 92 000 people were on ARV treatment in Namibia. This translates into Namibia spending about N$92 million a month to keep people living with HIV on the life-saving treatment.

Haufiku said the reduction of the price of the  HIV single-tablet means more people would be put on ARV therapy sooner than they were before.

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