A NEW DAWN
Waking up every day to take medication at a set time does not only remind people living with HIV of their infection but it can also be physically, emotionally and socially burdensome. “If you take the pill at 8am, it has to be that exact time every day for the rest of your life.
Often times it is not easy for people to really stick to the exact time, you need to be constantly reminded, sometimes you go a little over your time and in some situations beyond their control, some miss taking the pill altogether,” says HIV Activist and U=U Africa Ambassador, Bonosi Bino Segadimo.
It is even worse, Segadimo says, for people who wish to keep their HIV status private, having to constantly look over their shoulder when taking medication so as not to be caught out.
“But switching to long-acting injectables, administered once every two months is a huge step forward in offering people living with HIV a greater choice in how they manage their condition.”
Segadimo’s sentiments follow a recent announcement by Health Minister, Dr Edwin Dikoloti that the use of injectable anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs as an alternative to daily medication has been approved and will be rolled out next year in June.
Developed by ViiV Healthcare, the injection, whose active ingredient is cabotegravir, offers two months of protection against HIV. Like other HIV treatments, the anti-retroviral medication works by stopping the virus from replicating in the body, effectively reducing the viral load.
“These new medicines are injected and the injection is a slow release formulation necessitating them to be given every two months. This is a major advantage for patients as they do not have to take medications everyday like the oral formulations.
“This therefore, helps improve treatment adherence, leading to high chances of viral load suppression and less chances of developing medicines resistance,” Ministry of Health Spokesperson, Dr Christopher Nyanga explained.
He added that with improved chances of viral suppression, they are also less likely to transmit the virus, hence less new infections for the country and less projected expenditure on ARV medicines and laboratories for the country.
The injection, Dr Nyanga said, will be available for all HIV positive people in Botswana currently taking ART medication and are stable on their first line treatment, virally suppressed and not having any opportunistic infections.
However, they will not be given to people who have difficulties with adherence to daily pills or whose current HIV treatment is not working well. Also, they cannot be used for someone starting HIV treatment.
The biggest and the most important aspect of this treatment according to Segadimo, is the fact that people living with HIV who have to take pills every single day of their lives, can take injectables, and feel free from taking pills every day.
“It reflects the rightful need for people living with HIV to have the freedom to manage their HIV in a way that works best for them, helping them to live their life to the full,” she said ecstatically.
Furthermore, she said, the Undetectable =Untransmitable (U=U) messaging will be fully realised because, “the more undetectable people we have, the less transmissions will have and with that, an HIV free generation is on the horizon”.