Kenya is the first country in Africa to get a generic version of the current first-line drug for people living with HIV, the nation’s officials have announced.

The government and global health initiative Unitaid declared the move June 28, Wednesday, saying the East African nation will make the generic version of the drug dolutegravir available for routine use.

Generic Dolutegravir In Kenya

The Kenyan health ministry noted that it will provide the drug initially to 27,000 people with HIV who are unable to tolerate efavirenz, the current drug of choice in the country. If things go according to plan, generic dolutegravir will be made available nationwide later this year, the Associated Press reported.

Today there are approximately 1.5 million people in Kenya who are living with HIV.

In high-income nations, dolutegravir has been the medication of choice for the last two years for these patients, Africa Science News said. This is due to its very few side effects, ease of use compared with other formulations, and less likelihood of developing resistance.

Back in 2015, the World Health Organization recommended the drug as an alternative first-line drug for both adolescents and adults, and yet until recently, people with HIV living in countries such as Kenya were unable to access it.

The goal now is to generate evidence in order to introduce dolutegravir on a bigger scale by early 2018, according to the health ministry’s director of medical services Dr. Jackson Kioko. Based on different phase 3 clinical trials, the drug performs better than all other first-line treatments around.

In 2016, Kenya incorporated the drug in its guidelines for antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment.

Then in April, Kenya also became one of the three African countries, along with Ghana and Malawi, to receive the world’s first malaria vaccine starting next year as part of a series of real-world trials to test its efficacy. The vaccine will be administered to infants and young children from high-risk areas.

Tackling HIV/AIDS

The direction, according to experts around the world, is to produce new regimens for better, less expensive HIV treatment. Today, over 18 million are taking lifelong treatment for the virus, yet nearly an equal number remains unable to access treatment.

As part of Unitaid’s initiative, Nigeria and Uganda will also be introducing the use of dolutegravir. This will lay the groundwork for speeding up the uptake of the three-in-one fixed dose combination therapy to be made available by next year.

Comprising of tenofovir, lamivudine, and dolutegravir, the fixed dose combination is anticipated to substantially simplify HIV treatment.

ART uses a mixture of three or more drugs to block the replication of the HIV virus. This method, first widely deployed in 1996, prevents and helps repair any damage the infection causes to the human body's immune system, as well as thwarts the progression of the disease.

New research back in May hailed ART for increasing the life expectancy of HIV-positive individuals by a decade in both the United States and Europe.

"Combination antiretroviral therapy has been used to treat HIV for 20 years,” noted lead author Adam Trickey. “But newer drugs have fewer side effects, involve taking fewer pills, better prevent replication of the virus and are more difficult for the virus to become resistant to.”

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