South African organisations involving in combating HIV/Aids have welcomed the announcement of a tender award for a single-dose antiretroviral (ARV) drug for the government's HIV treatment campaign.
Announcing the R5.9-billion tender award in Pretoria on Thursday, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that the majority of South Africans on state-sponsored ARV treatment for HIV would, from April 2013, need only one tablet instead of the current three per day.
Motsoaledi added that South Africa had managed to reduce the cost of the tender - for a single dose of the triple combination of tenofovir, entricitabine and efavirenz - by 38%, a massive saving of R2.2-billion.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) welcomed the announcement on Friday, saying it would be the first time that "first-line fixed-dose combination ARVs and third-line antiretroviral medicines will be procured for use in the public sector".
It said clinical studies had shown that fixed-dose combination drugs (FDCs) improved patients' treatment adherence, which would improve treatment outcomes and reduce onward transmission of HIV.
FDCs would also make prescribing, dispensing and monitoring treatment easier for nurses and pharmacists, while simplifying procurement and supply chain management.
"This is particularly important given the ongoing challenges with medicines supply, leading to shortages and stock-outs of ARVs and other critical medicines," the TAC said.
Third-line ARVs also to be procured
The TAC further welcomed the fact that, for the first time, some third-line ARVs would be procured for use in the public sector. It said the provision of these medicines would offer hope for some patients who previously had no other treatment options.
The TAC said it would help the government by embarking on a nationwide education and awareness campaign on the introduction of first-line fixed-dose combination antiretrovirals. "We will also conduct workshops on the new third-line treatment and where is it available in the public sector."
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also welcomed the announcement, saying the inclusion of FDCs was "good news for the 1.7-million people currently on ARVs in South Africa, because they now finally have access to simpler and improved treatment options.
"Rolling out drugs in FDC formulations will have significantly positive implications to help keep patients adherent to their life-long treatment," Dr Gilles Van Cutsem, the MSF's medical coordinator in South Africa, said in a statement on Friday.
According to the MSF, the fixed-dose antiretrovirals would not only benefit patients but also relieve the burden on the South African health system by simplifying the ordering and monitoring of ARV stocks.
With fewer pills to pack, transport and dispense cost reductions were also possible.