The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is urging South Africans living with HIV to take their antiretroviral treatment as prescribed to curb the increasing levels of drug resistance.

This is after a World Health Organisation (WHO) HIV drug resistance report released last week showed that in six of the 11 countries surveyed in Africa, Asia and Latin America, over 10% of people starting ARV therapy had a strain of HIV that was resistant to some of the most widely used HIV drugs.

Once the threshold of 10% has been reached, WHO recommends those countries urgently review their HIV treatment programmes.

TAC general secretary Anele Yawa said: “It is of concern because when someone becomes resistant to certain ARVs they have to switch to other ARVs, which are generally much more expensive. Thus the cost of treating HIV becomes higher overall.”

Yawa said drug resistance typically developed when people could not take their ARVs as prescribed.

“If someone becomes resistant to a wide range of ARVs they may eventually run out of treatment options. This is why TAC encourages people to take their treatment as prescribed and why we monitor medicine stock-outs so closely.”

According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general: “Antimicrobial drug resistance is a growing challenge to global health. We need to proactively address the rising levels of resistance to HIV drugs if we are to achieve the global target of ending Aids by 2030.”

People with HIV drug resistance will start to fail therapy and may also transmit drug-resistant viruses to others. The level of HIV in their blood will increase unless they change to a different treatment regimen, which could be more expensive - and, in many countries, still harder to obtain.

Yawa said the report related mostly to ARVs on the market. “There are new ARVs on the way that hardly anyone is resistant to. These new ARVs, dolutegravir being the key one, also have a much higher resistance barrier which means it will take much longer for people to becomes resistant,” he said.