The Health ministry yesterday unveiled a new drug for people living with HIV in a Sh3.4 billion project.
The new generic first-line-drug —Dolutegravir or DTG — has been the drug of choice for the last two years for people living with HIV in high-income countries as it has minimal side effects and patients are less likely to develop resistance.
Kenya will now be among the first of three African countries to introduce DGT into the market. Nigeria and Uganda will also be introducing it later this year.
Speaking to partners at the Radison Blu Hotel, Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko yesterday said the ministry will initially provide DTG to 27,000 people living with HIV but are unable to tolerate the side effects of Efavirenz, a component of the first-line HIV drug currently used in Kenya.
It is easier and convenient to take — one small tablet taken daily.
The new drug will be introduced in select health facilities across the country. Later in the year, it will be made available countrywide.
Kioko said numerous phase three clinical trials have shown DTG is superior to all other first-line treatments.
Last year, Kenya included the drug into its antiretroviral therapy treatment guidelines.
More than 18 million people are on life-long HIV treatment worldwide, but almost a similar number do not have access to treatment yet.
In Kenya, about 1.5 million people live with HIV and just over one million are currently on ARVs.
The new drug is manufactured by a company in India. Its introduction is supported by Unitaid, a hosted partnership of the WHO.
Unitaid is also investing Sh6.7 billion to avoid delays of more than 10 years before new drugs are introduced in low- and middle-income countries.
Dr Martin Sirengo recommended that DTG be used by those who are unable to tolerate the side effects of Efavirenz — patients on second-line ART and as a first-line HIV drug for HIV-infected people who inject drugs.
He said the introduction of the new drug is the first step in ensuring access to better quality and more effective ARV therapy that will greatly improve the quality of life of HIV-positive individuals. The project also supports market introduction and uptake of HIV drugs for children.