Mmegi Online :: Is this the magic pill to end HIV?
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Last Updated
Friday 08 December 2017, 17:25 pm.
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Is this the magic pill to end HIV?

Last year, Botswana became the first country in Africa to introduce a new HIV drug called ‘dolutegravir’ that some are calling the Magic Pill. But will it really deliver on the hype? Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes.
By Nnasaretha Kgamanyane Fri 01 Dec 2017, 16:07 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Is this the magic pill to end HIV?








HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. More than 30 years ago, there was nothing that doctors and medical health practitioners could do to help patients. The little they could do was offer comforting words to patients who had been diagnosed with the virus. However, as the years and researchers intensified their efforts, new different HIV treatments emerged to help people live longer.

 While there remains no cure for HIV or AIDS, remarkable advancements in treatments and clinical understanding of how the disease progresses are allowing doctors to help patients live longer, fuller lives. Some of these patients even die of non-HIV related diseases or causes.

In 2016, Botswana transitioned to the use of a new HIV treatment known as Dolutegravir (DTG which is used to treat HIV infection. DTG is one of several Antiretrovirals included in the “integrase inhibitor” drug class. DTG, when combined with two other medicines in a single fixed-dose combination pill, is globally considered to be among the best treatments for HIV currently available. However, its availability has been limited due to its high cost.

According to Dr Mpho Letebele, the Botswana government introduced DTG into the country last year, when it also launched the Treat- All initiative. The high costs of the drug have been helped in part by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, more commonly known as PEPFAR. PEPFAR is a US government initiative to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Botswana is the first and only Upper Middle Income Country with widespread of DTG medication. At least 361,000 Batswana are

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HIV positive, with between 75% to 80% on one form of treatment or another.

Letebele says DTG is seen as a ‘superdrug’ because of its proficiency. DTG has an impressive antiviral efficacy, low risk of side effects and high genetic barrier to resistance. Patients taking DTG have been able to reduce their viral load to non-detectable levels.

“DTG is applicable for treating adult patients and children aged 12 years and older weighing at least 40 kilogrammes. The other good thing about it is that PEPFAR is funding support to offset initial cost,” he said.

The magic pill is given to people who have just enrolled for treatment. Those who have been taking other medications and do not have any problems with their current treatment, will continue taking them.

“We only change patient’s medication when the type of programme they are on is not treating them well and when they have bad side effects that could jeopardise their health.

We know that people don’t respond the same way to the medication and some have minor side effects that go away with time. It is normal. Those with normal side effects will continue taking their meds,” Letebele says.

Indeed, DTG has sparked excitement in the country. However, the doctor is quick to stress that the superdrug is not a cure.

“Even if the patient has an undetectable viral load, this does not mean they are healed,” he says.

“Patients are advised to keep on taking their meds, eating healthy and practicing safe sexual intercourse to avoid new infections and the development of drug resistant viruses.”

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