Kenya is the first African country to use a new generic HIV/AIDS drug that has shown to improve and prolong the lives of people living with the killer virus.
The drug, which is a generic version of Dolutegravir (DTG), comes as a relief to tens of thousands of people in Kenya who have been suffering severe side effects and resistance to other antiretroviral drugs, reports Reuters.
DTG was first approved in the United States in 2013 and has since become the drug of choice for HIV patients in the developed world who have never taken antiretroviral therapy before and who have developed resistance to other treatments.
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The drug is currently being given to 20,000 patients in Kenya and will be rolled out in Nigeria and Uganda before the end of the year with the help of the drug agency UNITAID.
“I had constant nightmares and no appetite. My appetite has come back…my body is working well with it,” says Doughtiest Ogutu, a Kenyan who started taking the drug this year due to her resistance to other treatments.
Ogutu, who has been living with the virus for 15 years, says the new drug has lowered her viral load from more than 450,000 to 40,000.
The brand-name version of the new drug is Tivicay, a product of Viiv Healthcare, which is majority-owned by the popular British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
Reduced Cost of Treatment
HIV drugs are promptly produced and delivered to the market in the developing world at a reduced cost by allowing generic companies to access patents from pharmaceutical companies for a small royalty.
Consequently, HIV patients in Africa have continued to enjoy easy access to antiretroviral drugs, with the head of Kenya’s National AIDS and STI Control Program, Martin Sirengo, revealing that the number of new HIV infections in Kenya have reduced by almost half over the last decade to about 80,000 new cases per year.
Although Kenya is still one of the countries with the largest HIV-positive populations, it has made great strides in addressing the spread of the pandemic.
This reduction is largely due to increased testing, use of antiretroviral drugs, and awareness.
According to Sirengo, more than two-thirds of the 1.5 million Kenyans living with the disease are now on treatment.
In May, Kenya launched an HIV self-testing kit and a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) drug, which is expected to significantly reduce cases of new HIV infection in the country.
The Ins and Outs of HIV
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks the immune system, the body’s natural defense against illness, destroying a type of white blood cell in the immune system called a “T-helper cell,” and then makes copies of itself inside these cells, exposing the body to numerous opportunistic infections.
The virus is transmitted through certain body fluids, such as blood, vagina fluid, semen, and breast milk. Although it is not curable, HIV can be managed with antiretroviral drugs that prevent it from multiplying.