Health & Fitness

Crossing fingers for child-friendly ARVs

pills

The new ARVs combine all four drugs currently used to treat HIV in children. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

Summary

  • Later this year, DNDI ,MOH and Kemri to conduct Phase three research trials that will test the effectiveness and safety of this new medicine.
  • The new medicines are designed to eliminate storage, palatability and dosing challenges associated with the current treatment for children below two years who are unable to swallow solid tablets used for HIV treatment.
  • The DNDI works with the WHO, governments, research institutions, academic bodies and pharmaceutical companies to develop low-cost quality drugs for neglected diseases affecting the poor.

Babies will soon benefit from friendly HIV drugs adapted to their unique needs.

The new medicines are designed to eliminate storage, palatability and dosing challenges associated with the current treatment for children below two years who are unable to swallow solid tablets used for HIV treatment.

Bernard Pecoul, executive director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI), in an interview with the Business Daily, said the organisation in partnership with India-based drug manufacturer Cipla has developed child-friendly anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs that are ‘easy’ on children.

Later this year, DNDI will work with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) to conduct Phase three research trials that will test the effectiveness and safety of this new medicine.

“This is the final stage of testing and we hope that by next year, the drug will be available for use by the large number of babies living with HIV in Kenya and Africa,” said Dr Pecoul.

Based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, HIV treatment in children requires the use of four drugs that are usually administered in the form of syrup and a tablet (which dissolves in water).

Though effective, Olawale Salami, paediatric HIV project manager at DNDI, stated that the syrup has a bitter taste which renders it unpalatable to most children. It also has a high alcohol content which can be dangerous to this group.

Again, the syrup needs to be stored at low temperatures that are difficult to achieve without refrigeration, which a majority of Kenyan households cannot afford. High temperatures compromise its efficacy.

These treatment barriers are largely to blame for the huge proportion of HIV-related deaths occurring in young children —compared to older ones — in not only Kenya but the entire sub-Saharan Africa.

The new treatment aims at addressing these challenges, thus improving drug adherence, survival and well-being of young children living with HIV.

It is a ‘4-in-1’ drug that combines all the four different types of medicine currently used for HIV treatment in young children.

The drug comes in the form of good tasting granules contained in a capsule. The granules can be sprinkled in the baby’s milk, food or water. “The granules taste good and aren’t bitter. So we expect them to be acceptable to children,” said Monique Wasunna, director of DNDI Africa.

Aside from being devoid of alcohol, she added that the new medicine can be stored safely at room temperatures. As a capsule, it will be easier to adjust the doses as the weight of a child increases.

“It’s easier to deal with whole capsules than deal with liquid syrup which is measured in millilitres using a syringe,” stated Dr Salami.

The DNDI works with the WHO, governments, research institutions, academic bodies and pharmaceutical companies to develop low-cost quality drugs for neglected diseases affecting the poor.

Paediatric or HIV in children is viewed as a neglected ailment affecting the poor since mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been eliminated in most developed nations. The numbers are high in Africa.

Not much has been done to address treatment challenges in young children.

“The adults have better drug formulations that are easy to take and adhere to, while young children are still forced to deal with bitter syrups that sometimes make them vomit and shun the medicine. This has to stop,” said Dr Pecoul.