Uganda: 380,000 HIV Patients Enrolled On New Drug

(File photo)

Kampala — The Ministry of Health has shifted a total of 380,000 people living with HIV/Aids on the new effective Dolutegravir (DTG) anti-Aids drug as the preferred first-line and second-line treatment.

Those enrolled are mostly men and a few women not in their reproductive age but are eligible for the drug out of the 1.1 million people currently on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Dr Joshua Musinguzi, the head of the HIV/Aids programme at Ministry of Health, said they are targeting to enrol a total of 520,000 eligible patients by October this year.

"There is no major challenge so far because all stakeholders are on board to provide both financial and moral support," Dr Musinguzi said yesterday.

Consent

His remarks follow the World Health Organisation's approval that DTG is safe for use by pregnant women and those in their reproductive years, contrary to earlier studies which highlighted a possible link between the drug and birth defects.

The birth defects included those of the brain and spinal cord, which cause conditions such as spina bifida in infants born to women who used the drug at the time of conception.

"We are going to sit as a country and analyse the evidence as presented by WHO and proceed based on senior top management decision [of the Health ministry]," Dr Musinguzi said, noting that the development is good progress to the fight against HIV/ Aids.

The latest developments come as great news to the women rights activists who had protested the decision by different governments restricting women from accessing the drug without consulting them.

They have continuously argued that the decision was unfair and curtailed women's rights to attain the highest standard of medical care.

Safety Concerns

Survey. The safety concern, which arose from a May 2018 study in Botswana, forced many countries, including Uganda, to pause their plans of making DTG-based regimens their preferred first-line therapy for pregnant women and those of childbearing age.

Findings. The study had found that of 426 women, who became pregnant while taking DTG, four cases had neural tube defects.

"There is still a risk that we and other countries need to monitor closely, but at this point, dolutegravir should be accessible for women of childbearing age due to the overwhelming benefits it offers," Ms Meg Doherty, the coordinator of treatment and care in the Department of HIV/Hepatitis and STIs at WHO, said.

Effectiveness. WHO has, however, indicated that DTG is more effective, easier to take and has fewer side-effects than alternatively prescribed drugs. The drug also has a high genetic barrier to developing drug resistance, which is important, given the rising trend of resistance to efervirenz and other regimens.

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