NAIROBI, Kenya Sep 21 – Kenya has received a consignment of antiretroviral medication from UNITAID, a global initiative partnering on treatment major diseases in low- and middle-income countries, to support ongoing efforts to suppress HIV/AIDS.
The aid received on Monday comprised of 47,000 packs of Dolutegravir (DTG) 50mg donated by UN agencies and 28,000 packs of Dolutegravir 10mg from UNITAID through the Clinton Health Access Initiative.
The newly formulated drugs flavored with strawberry were received by Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Mercy Mwangangi. The drugs seek to optimize treatment for children living with HIV/AIDS in the country.
Speaking to the media while officially receiving the donation, in an event held in Nyumbani Children’s home in Karen, Mwangangi said the drug has fewer side effects adding patients are less likely to develop resistance to medication.
“Studies show that Dolutegravir (DTG) based regimens have high potency, a high genetic barrier to HIV drug resistance, low toxicity, and have fewer drug-to-drug interactions. Evidence supports using DTG as a preferred First line ARV drug for Children and adolescents living with HIV with approved dosing and people co-infected with TB,” she said.
Kenya is among the first group of African countries to introduce the generic version of the DTG regimen for use in efforts to repress HIV/AIDS.
In 2018, the government embarked on a plan to phase out Nevirapine drug among adolescent and Efavirenz used among infants in favor of DTG regimen. To date, the program has transitioned to more than 65 per cent of children on the first-line antiretroviral therapy (ART) to DTG based regimens.
The program was implemented in phases in different parts of the country In line with the WHO guidelines.
Phase I transition which involved children and adolescents living with HIV kicked off in October 2019 with the aim of phasing out Nevirapine based regimens.
In April 2020, the health ministry rolled out Phase II with the focus to phase out the Efavirenz-based regimen among children weighing 20kgs and more.
The Ministry of Health said the new HIV treatment is easily tolerated by children and adolescent.
In the previous regimen, many of those on treatment respond poorly because of incorrectly dosed ARVs with younger patients forced to take drugs meant for adults which were bitter to taste.
“The availability of DTG 50mg film-coated tablets will foster improved adherence among the Children and Adolescents Living with HIV thereby improving their treatment outcomes,” Mwangangi elaborated.
People living with HIV/AIDS in the country have in the recent times experienced supply constraints and delay in the distribution of the antiretroviral drugs in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ministry of Health has committed to responsively deal with this challenge by partnering with other donor stakeholders to kickstart the local manufacture of antiretroviral drugs in the country.
“Effects of the Covid-19 pandemic last year have particularly been felt this year as optimal stocking of HIV commodities is yet to be achieved. Though a challenge, it has created an opportunity to strengthen collaboration as is the case today and improved research among countries in addition to boosting local manufacturing of commodities,” said Mwangangi.
On his part, Director Medical Services Dr Andrew Mulwa warned that there had been a gradual increase in mother to child transmission of HIV between 2012 to 2019 which draws back the efforts of fighting the epidemic.
“We have 6806 new infections amongst our children, this is to say about 20 children get infected daily. This is unacceptable. I know we can change this tide,” he said
Mulwa lamented that children and the adolescent have been left behind when it comes to research done to combat different pandemics including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have not done much on COVID-19 research when it comes to children. Children should not always come last given that they cannot champion for their own needs,” he said.
The National AIDS/STD Control Programme (NASCOP) who have been working in collaboration with the health ministry to accelerate the treatment of HIV in the country have commended the progress made thus far in mainstreaming the treatment regime of DTG.
NASCOP Head of Program Dr Catherine Ngugi stated that so far, the agency has collaborated with county government to train health workers on the administration of the drug regimen.
“In the last couple of weeks, we have trained health workers in 12 counties so as to ensure the enrollment program is not stuck at the national government,” Ngugi noted
In total, about 106,807 Kenyan children below 14 years are living with HIV, but only 72,968 are on treatment.
In 2019, 4,333 children succumbed to the disease, being 11 per cent of all HIV-related deaths that year.
In 2018, the World Health Organization recommended DTG for children over the age of four weeks and weighing more than three kilograms but to date only those weighing 20kg or have accessed medication due to lack of age-appropriate formulations.
Currently, there are approximately 1.5 million People Living with HIV in Kenya out of which 106,807 are children.
Of 1.2 million patients on antiretroviral drugs, 68,011 are children below the age of 15 years.