HIV generic drug for babies to be rolled out in Africa in 2021

A strawberry-flavoured tablet for children living with HIV will be rolled out in African countries in 2021, the first generic pediatric version of a key anti-retroviral available even for babies, aid agencies said on Tuesday, World AIDS Day.

Some 1.7 million children worldwide live with HIV, but only half receive any treatment — often hard to administer due to the bitter taste or incorrectly dosed by crushing adult pills, the global health agency UNITAID said. Some 100,000 children die of AIDS annually.

“For many of those children, the HIV virus is not suppressed due in part to lack of availability of effective drugs that are palatable and properly adapted for them,” UNITAID spokesman Herve Verhoosel told a Geneva news briefing.

UNITAID and the Clinton Health Access Initiative have reached a pricing agreement with the generic drugmakers Viatris and Macleods for the dispersible pediatric formulation of dolutegravir, a statement said.

The first-line HIV treatment is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) from the age of four weeks and three kilograms, but it had been out of reach for babies because of the lack of appropriate formulations.

The estimated cost for combination therapy will now be some $120 US for a child’s annual treatment, against $480 currently, UNITAID said.

Benin, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe are due to receive the first tablets in the first half of 2021, Verhoosel said.

Self-test introduced

The Public Health Agency of Canada said this year that the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened challenges for people living with HIV and those who are most at risk for contracting the infection.  

“For many, accessing culturally safe and timely HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care is more difficult than before,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The federal government recently authorized the first HIV self-test kit in Canada. The one-minute self-test allows people to detect if they have an HIV infection through a single drop of blood, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters.

Packaging included with the test provides advice on what to do following a positive result.

Tuesday also marks the beginning of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week in Canada.

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