From April patients who are on ARV treatment will no longer have to take three tablets daily but will only need one tablet a day.
This was announced by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi recently, when he released details on a tender award for a single dose of the triple combination of tenofovir, entricitabine and efavirenz.
Dr Motsoaledi noted that South Africa had managed to reduce the cost of the tender by more than a third - 38 per cent – which is a massive saving of R2.2 billion.
The tender has been awarded to Aspen Pharmacare, Cipla Medpro and Mylan Pharmaceuticals. The price of the three- in-one combination is R89.37, which, Dr Motsoaledi says, is now the world's lowest price for this product.
“This new tender has moved from an original R8.1 billion to R5.9 billion for two years; these savings mean we can treat more patients with the same budget,” Dr Motsoaledi said.
The Minister explained that from April 2013 all HIV positive pregnant women would be given the single-dose combina- tion during pregnancy and breastfeeding, regardless of their CD4 count.
At least 80 per cent of patients who are on ARV treatment will also, from April, be able to switch to the single-dose combination. However, Dr Motsoaledi noted that those who couldn’t be switched for any reason could still take individual ARV drugs.
Highlighting the benefits of the combination for patients, Dr Motsoaledi said logistics and storage would be reduced and there would be fewer side effects.
“The fixed dose combination brings with it an additional extraordinary benefit. The combination is more effective than dual therapy and has fewer side effects for the pregnant mother, in addition to its convenient dosage regimen.”
The department will also be keeping a register of the patients so they can monitor their progress and check for side effects.
The drugs will be available in all 3 000 health facilities, said Dr Motsoaledi.
The Minister also promised that there would be no more delays in supply, as experienced in the past. Those delays were due to problems with the previous supplier.
“We have asked the suppliers to give us their commitment on this and all three of them have done so,” he said.
Clinical Advisor for TB/HIV at the Wits University's Clinical HIV Research Unit Dr Francesca Conradie said the combination would not harm the mothers with a high CD 4 count in any way.
“Simplification of the tablets is so much easier for mothers and it will lead to better results,” said Dr Conradie.
UNAIDS Country Coordinator Dr Catherine Sozi commended South Africa for making effective drugs available at a low price.
“The reduction in cost is way beyond what we've hoped for,” said Sozi