New HIV medicines to transform lives Unitaid News – December 2019


1. Just in time for World AIDS Day, a state-of-the-art HIV treatment is launched in South Africa

2. Unitaid support leads to more affordable, better-tasting HIV medicine for children

3. December in brief: stopping cervical cancer, malaria prevention for infants, Universal Health Coverage Day and more

Just in time for World AIDS Day, an affordable, state-of-the-art treatment is launched in South Africa

Over the past three years, Unitaid investments have led to major improvements in access to better HIV treatments. Those investments paid off again this month when the Government of South Africa began the rollout of a WHO-recommended antiretroviral medication that promises to help greatly reduce the country’s HIV burden by improving adherence to treatment. TLD is a four-in-one combination drug that contains dolutegravir, the drug of choice for HIV in high-income countries. The dosage is only one small pill a day.

“I could barely do anything when I was taking the older medicines because of the side effects--I was so lethargic,” said Kenly Sikwese, coordinator of the African Community Advisory Board and a Unitaid Executive Board member. “Dolutegravir-based treatment has allowed me to function as a human being again.”

When medicines are easier to take, not only is quality of life improved, but people are much more likely to adhere to treatment. Adherence keeps the virus suppressed, which means it can’t be transmitted. Practiced on a large scale, adherence is seen as a powerful way to cut off fuel to the epidemic.

Because about 20 percent of the people worldwide who have HIV live in South Africa, the introduction of the new treatment there is expected to have a far-reaching impact on the global HIV response. About 7.7 million South Africans are living with HIV.

Unitaid’s work for better antiretrovirals has included four clinical trials, funding to the Medicines Patent Pool for affordable generics, market-shaping interventions to lower prices, and technical support to the South Africa Department of Health via the Clinton Health Access Initiative. Unitaid has been instrumental in bringing about a price drop in dolutegravir-based treatment to a global low of US$ 66 per person per year. Further price reductions are expected, which could save health systems US$ 300 million each year, enough to put an additional 5 million people on treatment.

To learn more about the rollout of TLD in South Africa, listen to BBC’s Newsday interview with Robert Matiru (go to 31min:35sec), Unitaid’s director of programmes.

Or read this article from The Guardian

Unitaid support leads to more affordable, better-tasting HIV medicine for children

Although about 1.8 million children are living with HIV, pediatric treatment has long been given via bitter syrups and hard-to-take pills. The result? Poor adherence to treatment, rising resistance to medicines and many preventable deaths.

The Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla made news at the end of November with the announcement of a new, child-friendly medicine, Quadrimune, developed with major funding from Unitaid. It comes in strawberry-flavored granules that can be mixed into food, doesn’t require refrigeration like the old syrup and costs less than a dollar a day.

“It’s something we’ve been working toward for a long time, and it’s so needed,” said Katherine Blumer, a programme management officer at Unitaid. “This is a major improvement in the treatment of very young children.”

Quadrimune is the outcome of Unitaid work that began in 2013, when the organization approached Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, and asked to team up on creating an HIV medicine more acceptable for children.

The new medicine has been submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration for review, after which it will seek WHO certification. If the approval process goes smoothly, children could be swapping their syrups and pills for the strawberry-flavored granules by the summer.

Read more about Unitaid and Quadrimune in this story from the New York Times.

December in brief:

Unitaid issued a call for grant proposals to increase malaria prevention for infants. Proposed projects should help expand access to intermittent preventive treatment for infants (IPTi). The call will be open until 11 March 2020, and preceded by an informational webinar on 8 Jan. IPTi involves administering antimalarial medicine to babies, delivered at routine vaccine visits. The approach has been found to reduce clinical malaria by 30 percent. Expanding access to it is expected to save the lives of thousands of babies.

MTV Shuga Babi held a gala to celebrate its television debut. This French-language version of MTV Shuga revolves around a dance school in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. Unitaid invested in developing the show, which has storylines to help viewers learn about HIV, self-testing and sexual health matters. To read more, see this recent article from the Financial Times.

Unitaid joined partners to mark Universal Health Coverage Day on 12 Dec. with a renewed commitment to advance the types of innovations in medicines, tools and approaches that will help make health coverage for all a reality. The day’s slogan was Keep the Promise, a reference to September’s UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage and the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All (GAP). Unitaid was also among 12 multilateral organizations to participate in the launch of the GAP, an initiative to strengthen collaboration to help countries move faster toward universal health coverage.

In Kigali, Rwanda, Unitaid and the Imbuto Foundation joined leaders in government, global health, science and medicine at the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa for a panel discussion on preventing cervical cancer in low-income countries. The risk of contracting the disease is up to 10 times greater in women living with HIV. Unitaid’s US$ 33 million project with Clinton Health Access Initiative is developing new tools for the detection and treatment of precancerous lesions. Speakers at the Kigali event included Unitaid Executive Board Chair Marisol Touraine and Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame. Read more in The New Times of Rwanda.

Unitaid is set to launch another cervical cancer project in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire on 21 Dec. The US$ 24 million SUCCESS project will be implemented by Expertise France in Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guatemala and the Philippines.

The ICASA panel in Kigali discussed leveraging partnerships to strengthen the fight against cervical cancer