New ARV boosts treatment
New antiretroviral drugs that South Africa will introduce next year are cheaper and have far fewer side effects than medicines presently available.
"It's not often in medicine we get something safer and more effective that is also cheaper. This is a big step forward," said professor Francois Venter, deputy director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.
The development was made possible when the Bill Gates Foundation announced last week it had given financial guarantees to the makers of Dolutegravir, which will cost about R1,000 to treat a patient a year.
"Dolutegravir is well tolerated by patients and has fewer side effects," said health department spokesman Joe Maila.
Dolutegravir is less expensive because fewer ingredients are used to make a tablet or capsule.
"It is cheaper to make," said Venter.
Price will be one way to scale up South Africa's treatment to about 6.5million people who are HIV positive.
Another benefit of Dolutegravir is that the HI virus does not become resistant.
Venter said: "Dolutegravir has one of the highest resistance barriers we have seen - in more than 600,000 people we have seen only one patient get resistance."
Efavirenz, which Dolutegravir will replace, has caused fatal liver damage in a handful of patients.
UCT hepatology professor Mark Sonderup said he was pleased it was being phased out.
"The move to Dolutegravir is immensely positive and will negate the adverse effects of Efavirenz such as neurotoxicity," he said.