The Nigerian Government has said Dolutegravir (DTG), the new drug for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, is already being used in Nigeria, although only by those who can afford it because of its high cost.
DTG can improve and prolong the lives of people who suffer side effect and resistance to other treatments and is the drug of choice for people with HIV in high-income countries who have never taken anti-retroviral therapy before and for those who have developed resistance to other treatments.
A report last week had stated that Unitaid, a global health initiative, is set to roll out a generic version of the drug so that it can become available to tens of thousands of people who at the moment cannot afford the patented version.
According to the report, DTG, first approved in the U.S. in 2013, is now being given to 20,000 patients in Kenya and will be rolled out in Nigeria and Uganda later in the year.
Reacting to the report, an official of the National Agency for the Control of Aids, NACA, Bravo Otohabru, said the drug is not totally new, as it is presently being used by some patients in Nigeria.
Mr. Otohabru, who is the head of supply chain management for NACA, said the drug was developed in 2013 and already exists in the national treatment guideline.
He however noted that the drug is only used to replace any of the combinations of drugs to which patients had developed resistance.
“Dolutegravir (DTG) is mostly used for few newly diagnosed HIV patients who have never taken anti-retroviral therapy before and for those who have developed resistance to other treatments.
“The drug is not taking over from other HIV drugs, it only replaces one of the combinations for those who the existing combination of drugs no longer work,” he said.
Mr. Otohabru also disclosed that the agency is working closely with the federal government to ensure that the generic version of the drug will be given out at no cost and is also accessible to patients when it becomes available in Nigeria.
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, had earlier stated that those affected by HIV are eligible for free health services at all levels in both public and private health institutions.
Lamenting the high number of HIV patients on treatment, Mr. Otohabru said with close to one million people presently on anti-retroviral drugs in Nigeria, the number is far from what the agency aims to put on treatment.
In his reaction, the Executive Secretary of Civil Society for HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, (CISHAN), Walter Ugwuocha, urged the Nigerian Government to hasten the importation of the drug as it has minimal side effects on patients.
He added that the drug, if used as a first line treatment, has the efficacy of extending lives of HIV patients in Nigeria.
With over three million affected, Nigeria has the second highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world.