Hundreds of Kenyan babies who were exposed to a HIV drug will be re-examined in a new study. The drug, called Dolutegravir or DTG, was introduced in Kenya mid-last year.
But recent research from Botswana shows babies of women taking the drug can be born with holes in the spines or partially closed skulls. The condition, known as neural tube defect, only affects nine in every 1,000 infants.
Yesterday, the National Aids and STIs Control Programme said they will interview mothers who took the drug during their pregnancy and examine their babies. “We are only waiting for ethical approvals. We will investigate how many women took the drug and if there was any effect,” Irene Mukui, the deputy head of Nascop, said.
Nascop has already banned the drug’s use by women intending to bear children or those already pregnant. Mukui said in Kenya, no case of neural tube defect has been exclusively attributed to the use of DTG yet, because there are other causes.
She spoke in Nairobi at the ongoing HIV Prevention, care and treatment scientific conference organised by Nascop. “We will be going to facilities and following up on the women likely to have taken the drug,” Mukui said yesterday.
The study is likely to involve thousands of women because at least five per cent of all pregnant Kenyan women are HIV positive.
The drug, manufactured by GSK, is still a preferred treatment because it powerfully suppresses HIV, people cope well with it and drug resistance rarely surfaces. It remains part of the recommended first-line drug in Kenya. Nascop boss Bartilol Kigen said data from the research will be available next year. “In the interim, Efivarenz, which is a safe and effective first-line treatment regimen, should be offered to women and adolescent girls of childbearing potential. Women and adolescent girls on effective contraception may choose to use DTG and should be supported to make appropriate family planning decisions,” Kigen said.
He explained that DTG has not been known to affect a baby’s development after the first month of pregnancy and has not been known to affect breastfeeding infants.
“Women who are already pregnant or breastfeeding while on DTG should continue on the treatment until they have stopped breastfeeding. This is because changing the HIV treatment regimen during pregnancy may increase a woman’s viral load and pose a risk of HIV transmission to the baby,” he said.