More than 38.4 million individuals worldwide had HIV as of 2021, with 1.5 million new cases recorded in the previous year alone.
While new infections among children have decreased by 41% since 2010 and the prevalence of infections among adults has levelled off globally since 200, more must be done to improve access to life-saving treatments, particularly given that research suggests that only 54% of children who have the virus receive treatment.
According to IPASA's Head of Government Affairs and Policy, Dr Mothobi Godfrey Keele, the Medicines Patent Pool is the saving grace for countless patients needing affordable and accessible life-saving medical interventions.
Still commemorating World Aids Day, we are reminded of the opportunity to unite against HIV, show support for those living with the virus, and remember those who have succumbed to it.
It is also an opportunity to consider the vast amount of work that has gone into studying and creating therapies to keep the virus under control and patients as healthy as possible.
Dr Keele states that while there is no known cure for Aids, medical treatments for HIV successfully manage the virus' side effects, lower the body's viral load, and maintain a strong immune system.
He further explains that HIV treatments can be expensive and pharmaceutical companies with registered intellectual property rights over the chemical composition of their medications are well within their rights to adjust their asking price to recover costs incurred during the Research and Development (R&D) phase.
To facilitate access to affordable, quality treatment for low- and middle-income countries, organisations such as the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) were established.
South Africa's rollout of the HIV medicine dolutegravir (DTG) in late 2019 is one example of how the Medicines Patent Pool has benefited developing nations with affordable quality medications, said Dr Keele.
Within four to eight weeks of use, DTG-based treatments have shown to have strong compliance, a rapid favourable virologic and immunological response, as well as a reduced side effect profile. This is the case to the point where the World Health Organization (WHO) advises DTG-based therapies as the optimal first- and second-line regimen for people with HIV.
After lengthy public health licensing agreements were reached between the Medicines Patent Pool and South African generic drug producers for the technology transfer of the medication from the world's leading generic HIV treatment pharmaceutical company, ViiV Healthcare, people finally had access to the DTG medication.
The 2014 agreement expedited access to DTG medications and their combinations, including TLD - tenofovir disoproxil, lamivudine, and dolutegravir.
“South Africans have benefited immensely from this exchange, which saw up to 60% of the country's 5,4 million antiretroviral-treated patients as of June this year receiving the first-line DTG treatment regimen. South Africa has the largest public HIV treatment programme in the world.”
He adds: “To this purpose, the new formulation of TLD8 will be made available to all South Africans who have just received an HIV diagnosis, those who have previously taken TEE (a combination of tenofovir, emtricitabine, and efavirenz), and those who have been virally suppressed for at least six months.
Additionally, this has made medicine access fair for all patients in the nation, including those who rely on the government for their medical treatment.”
South Africa is now recognised as a leader in HIV response and treatment, which has been made possible through the combined efforts of the Medicines Patent Pool, the South African government, and ViiV Healthcare.
For many South Africans living with the virus who want to lead a healthy and productive life for many years to come, this is the only hope they have, said IPASA's Head of Government Affairs and Policy, Dr Keele.
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