A NEW HIV-Aids treatment drug has received a mixed reaction, with concerns raised in some quarters that most patients would not immediately have access to it.
The drug Atroiza (Atripla), which government began rolling out yesterday , will initially only be available to pregnant and lactating mothers and newly diagnosed patients with a CD4 count of less than 350, provincial health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said.
Dubbed the Fixed Dose Combo (FDC) as it combines six tablets into a single daily dose, Atroiza is expected to reduce side-effects such as deformities. Kupelo said it would also encourage adherence to treatment and reduce drug resistance.
However the Treatment Action Campaign’s Vuyiseka Dubula raised concerns about the millions of patients who would still have to continue taking a difficult cocktail of six tablets indefinitely.
“We are told suppliers cannot cope with the numbers and we appreciate we need to be realistic because pharmaceuticals will manufacture the six-dose combination (FDC) for the first time,” said Dubula.
“But it’s not fair to create an Animal Farm situation where only a few can access better treatment,” Dubula said in reference to George Orwell’s classic novel that highlights inequality and double standards in society.
HIV activist Neliswa Bikwe from Siyayinqoba Beat it! echoed Dubula’s sentiments .
“I have been on ARVs since 2007 and if it was possible to take the new pill tomorrow I would jump at the opportunity ,” said Bikwe.
Kupelo said: “The Eastern Cape has enough new drugs to be distributed to pregnant, breastfeeding and newly diagnosed patients with a CD4 count of less than 350.
“From September this year, existing patients will be able to switch to the new regime at the discretion of their physician.”
The head of the ARV clinic at Frere Hospital, Dr Yolie Pakade, said FDC could help realise goals like reducing mother to child transmission (MTCT) .
Frere Hospital chief executive Rolene Wagner said MTCT in the province was 3.4% and 1.6% in the Buffalo City sub-district.
“The government wants to reduce MTCT to one percent by 2015/16. With this drug we may achieve that target,” said Pakade. — firstname.lastname@example.org/ email@example.com