Kenya rolls out plan to cut cost of HIV drugs

The new drug for people living with HIV. PHOTO | STELLAR MURUMBA
The new drug for people living with HIV. PHOTO | STELLAR MURUMBA 

Kenyans living with HIV have received a major boost following Wednesday’s announcement that the government has committed to invest Sh7.5 billion annually on a local plant that will make anti-Aids drugs.

The partnership with the Global Fund, and the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) will produce Dolutegravir (DTG) – an anti-Aids drug with roots in India.

The plan, which was rolled out Wednesday, makes Kenya the first country to introduce the “cheapest” version of the Tivicay ARV brand.

Tivicay is the brand name for DTG’s anti-retroviral ARV, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline through ViiV Healthcare.

Tivicay has been available in private hospitals such as Aga Khan University Hospital at a cost of between $12 (Sh1,200) and $50 (Sh5,000).

DTG, which will be available for free in public hospitals and select private facilities like Mater Hospital, is said to have fewer side effects on users and can improve, prolong the lives of tens of thousands of patients, who suffer adverse drug reactions and resistance to other treatments.

“We are starting with 27,000 Kenyans living with HIV who are intolerant to Efavirenz (the first-line HIV drug currently in use), injecting drug users and those in need of third-line treatment,” said Deputy Director of Medical Services and Head of Nascop Dr Martin Sirengo.

“DTG generic has no counter-interaction with other drugs like TB medicine and produces fewer side effects. It will cost the government about $50 (Sh5,000) per patient per year in the next two years when we put all patients on the treatment,” he said.

Dr Sirengo was speaking during the launch of the drug in Nairobi where Kenya also celebrated 14 years of anti-retroviral treatment (ART).

UNITAID donated 148,000 packs of DTG worth about Sh60 million, translating to Sh400 per pack. UNITAID is an international facility for the purchase of drugs against HIV/Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis for poor and developing countries like Kenya.

Currently, 1.5 million HIV patients in Kenya are on free ART. The government spends an average of Sh20,000 per year per person on ARTs.

Dr Sirengo said other partners are being involved to ensure a continuous supply of DTG after exhausting the donation from Unitaid in about five months.

Unitaid director of operations Robert Matiru said the donation is part of their $34million (Sh3.4billion) treatment programme, which will also be rolled out in Uganda and Nigeria later in the year.

He said an HIV patient would only need one pack of DTG a month, a small tablet a day, in combination with two other drugs.

“The investment will cater for the cost of training personnel and preparing government for the transition. HIV patients with tuberculosis will need to take two tablets of DTG a day one in the morning and the other in the evening,” said Mr Matiru.

Mr Matiru said DTG is an affordable option as it is cheaper to manufacture and its ingredients are also readily available. 

The executive director - Network of People Living with HIV and Aids in Kenya (Nephak), Nelson Otuoma said ART has transformed the killer disease from “a death sentence to a manageable disease”.

“We want to confirm that ART works as it tames the virus to avoid transmission and DTG is efficacious just like its original version. It is the best if taken religiously,” said Mr Otuoma.

Over 600,000 HIV-related deaths have been averted in Kenya over the last 14 years, with a decline of children infection from 27,000 in 2009 to about 7,000 in 2015. HIV killed 9,471 Kenyans last year down from 11,131 the previous year.