New medicine a huge boost to war on HIV/Aids

Nascop Head Martin Sirengo (centre) with Nacc Director Nduku Kilonzo (left) and Makueni CEC Member for Health Andrew Mulwa at Safari Park Hotel and Casino in Nairobi in March 2016. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Dolutegravir, manufactured by the Indian pharmaceutical Aurobindo Pharma, will be available free of charge in public hospitals and select private facilities.

  • This makes Kenya the first country in Africa to roll out the generic version of DTG and the second after Botswana to launch the drug for routine use.

Barely two months after introducing two products to boost the fight against HIV/Aids, the government has launched yet another one: a generic version of the most advanced drug for the virus.

Dolutegravir, manufactured by the Indian pharmaceutical Aurobindo Pharma, will be available free of charge in public hospitals and select private facilities.

This makes Kenya the first country in Africa to roll out the generic version of DTG and the second after Botswana to launch the drug for routine use.

The medicine will be used as a first-line treatment among patients taking anti-retroviral drugs.

“With the ‘test and treat all’ approach, we are now moving to early diagnosis and investing in quality of care,” Dr Martin Sirengo, who heads the National Aids and STI Control Programme, said.

FEWER SIDE-EFFECTS

According to Dr Sirengo, DTG has “fewer side-effects” and patients are less likely to develop resistance to it.

He was speaking at the launch of the medicine in Nairobi, an event at which Kenya celebrated 14 years of anti-retroviral treatment.

For the past two years, Dolutegravir has been used in high-income countries as the drug of choice for HIV patients. However, the high cost of the medicine has put it out of reach for most patients in Africa.

One will be required to take a small tablet of DTG daily with two other drugs as it is a combination therapy.

Unitaid, a non-governmental organisation that aims at reducing the costs of medicines for Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, on Wednesday donated 148,000 packs of DTG worth Sh60 million – about Sh400 per pack – for a 30-day supply.

The drug has been available in local private hospitals at between Sh1,200 and Sh5,000. Uganda and Nigeria will also introduce it later this year under a similar grant from Unitaid.

“The generic DTG has two advantages: On one hand, from a pharmaceutical point of view, it is very good. On the other hand, it is much cheaper,” said Mr Robert Matiru of Unitaid.

In 2015, the World Health Organization recommended DTG as an alternative first-line treatment for adults and adolescents. However, until recently, people living with HIV in countries such as Kenya could not access the drug due to its high cost.

TO THOUSANDS

The Ministry of Health will initially provide the medicine to 27,000 people living with HIV who are unable to tolerate the side-effects of Efavirenz, a component of the first-line HIV drug in use in the country.

Currently, about 1.5 million HIV patients receive ARVs from the government at no cost, costing the taxpayer an average of Sh20,000 per year per person.

Researchers have recommended the drug for patients who are resistant to second-line ARVs as well as HIV-positive people who inject drugs.

A Kenyan study has shown that a quarter of patients taking a failing second-line ART regimen have exhausted current treatment options and only 18 per cent have a virus that is fully susceptible to the three main classes of anti-HIV drugs.

URGENT NEED

The study, conducted in Kenya and published in the online edition of the AIDS journal, says there is an urgent need for affordable third-line anti-retrovirals.

“This study in the Kenyan national ART (anti-retroviral therapy) programme suggests that about 27 per cent of patients with second-line failure are in need of a switch to third-line therapy, with 25 per cent demonstrating complete exhaustion of alternative first and second-line regimens,” its authors say.

The report says the data indicated an “urgent need for increasing access to third-line drugs”.

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