ONCE DAILY: Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi shows a fixed dose combination ARV pill on Monday. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
Health activists hailed the launch of the new fixed dose combination ARV therapy by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Monday but there’s some concern about the state’s ability to deliver it to all who need the drug.
HIV patients in South Africa will now only have to take one tablet instead of three separate pills per day. The pill, which combines tenofovir, emtricitabine and efavirenz, was rolled out at public health centres countrywide last week.
Motsoaledi said at the launch in Pretoria: “We will be starting with newly diagnosed HIV-positive persons eligible for treatment, HIV-positive pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers.
“All pregnant women who are on the pill will be monitored monthly.”
The minister said the new drug would improve treatment adherence and have fewer side effects.
About 180000 people will be put on the new pill each month over the next three months.
Patients currently on ARVs will be switched to the fixed dose combination after clinical assessment by their health care providers.
All pregnant women would be monitored on a monthly basis.
“We are doing this not because we don’t trust these drugs, but this is part of clinical practice. We need to monitor the reactions of patients in drugs and take action,” Motsoaledi said.
But after June most patients would start taking the new pill subject to clinical assessments.
Lobby group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) said the rollout of the new drug was a major victory for people living with HIV-Aids.
Gauteng TAC secretary Andrew Mosane said: “We’ve been fighting for this for five years. We are saying amandla to the pressure and everything that we have done.”
The CEO of the South African National Aids Council, Dr Fareed Abdullah, also welcomed the new treatment. Abdullah said: “Last week when we had our meeting with NGOs, everybody was excited about the new treatment as it will bring improvement and reduce side effects and improve compliance.”
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) project coordinator in Khayelitsha, Lynne Wilkinson, said: “Overall, MSF is happy about the long overdue availability of fixed dose combination ARV therapy in the public sector.
“But we remain concerned that the supply will lag significantly behind the estimated need.
“In the Western Cape in Khayelitsha, there has been minimal supply to date.
“Starting new patients on a fixed dose combination and then being forced to change to three separate drugs in a few months’ time to supply constraints puts patients’ adherence at risk.”
» More than 20% of the world’s ARVs are consumed in South Africa
» About 1.9 million patients in SA are on ARV treatment
» The department aims to put 2.5 million people on ARVs by 2014