Photograph — Sixth Tone

On International World AIDS Day- December 1, 2019, South Africa’s Health department rolled out a new antiretroviral treatment to fight against HIV in the country which currently inhabits one of the highest numbers of people living with the deadly virus. 

The new treatment regime known as TLD was unveiled by the Health Minister Zweli Mkhize during a ceremony in southwestern KwaZulu-Natal- the province with the country’s highest prevalence rates, where more than a quarter of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS. 

TLD is a three-in-one, fixed-dose combination that includes dolutegravir, lamivudine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. With only a small tablet daily, the treatment seeks to prolong the lifespan of people living with HIV/AIDS both in South Africa and across the globe. 

Developed with the financial backing of Unitaid– global health development organization, the new three-in-one pill “is highly effective and has much more rapid viral suppression” Robert Matiru, Unitaid’s Director of Operations said.  

Matiru added that “it has fewer side effects in general and is much more resilient.” As of 2018, there were 7.7 million people in South Africa living with HIV/AIDS; of which 240,000 were new HIV infections and 77,000 of them died from Aids-related illnesses. This new three-in-one antiretroviral drug seeks to reduce the high mortality rate resulting from HIV/AIDS and its related illnesses such as Tuberculosis (TB), Cytomegalovirus and Candidiasis amongst others. 

Globally, most antiretroviral drugs are expensive with an average of $2,000. For instance, Triumeq ($2,867), Descovy ($1,748), Genvoya ($3,066) making it difficult for less-privileged infected patients to use such drugs. 

Unitaid revealed that the price of TLD will start at $75 per person, and could drop lower. However, this is hardly favourable for people living in South Africa considering the country’s present economic state. Usually, Antiretroviral drugs are slashed to make it more affordable, but it’s still early to determine whether that will be arranged in this case.

World wide, South Africa accounts for more than 10 percent of all HIV-related deaths and 15 percent of new infections. The Country’s government in collaboration with Unitaid is therefore saddled with the responsibility of subsidizing the TLD price which most of its citizens, especially those in the rural areas cannot afford.

Subsequently, this subsidy will encourage faster circulation of the TLD treatment in South Africa and ultimately increase the current number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment which is 4.8 million. This treatment will also contribute to reaching the UN’s goals for ending the HIV epidemic by 2030.

By Treasure Nnabugwu.

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