Just one pill a day will keep HIV at bay
One pill a day - that is all an HIV-positive person needs to keep the virus at bay.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced yesterday that, from April, the government will make available a one-tablet-a-day treatment for most of the 1.7million government patients. The tablet contains three antiretrovirals.
Patients currently have to take four tablets a day.
The pill is the cheapest of its type in the world - R89.37 for a month's supply.
It contains the three ARVs used for patients going on ARVs for the first time - tenofovir, emtricitabine and efavirenz - and will be supplied by three pharmaceutical companies.
In the private sector, the pill would cost about four times as much .
Dr Kay Mahomed, who treats HIV-positive patients at the Right to Care NGO based at Helen Joseph Hospital, said: "There are not many chronic illnesses for which you just take one pill at night. With HIV, we are on top of things. We are living in a beautiful time."
Taking only one pill a day will make adherence to treatment a lot easier for patients and prevent them from developing resistance to the medication, said Mahomed.
Motsoaledi said the new ARVs cost 38% less than those now being bought by the government.
He said the "extraordinary benefit" was that all pregnant women who were HIV-positive could be given ARVs until they finished breast-feeding. This would help eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Mahomed explained: "The pill suppresses the viral load, making the patient less infectious. It is then very unlikely that a woman on ARVs will pass on HIV to her baby at birth or through breast-feeding."
Médecins Sans Frontières' Dr Gilles van Cutsem said: "This eliminates the need for infants to receive nevirapine syrup for the duration of breast-feeding because they will now be protected through their mothers taking ARVs."
The head of the HIV Clinicians' Society, Dr Francesca Conradie, said that putting pregnant women on ARVs until they had finished breast-feeding had no harmful side effects.
Liselle Bezuidenhout, who has been HIV-positive since 2000 and began a course of ARVs three months ago, was very happy about the news: "I have to take my handbag everywhere to keep my medicine. Now I can keep it in a bottle in my pocket, and nobody sees it."