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 Thursday 04 October 2007
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AFRICA: New-version kaletra victory for MSF

Photo: Georgina Cranston/IRIN
New tablet version of Kaletra now available in parts of Africa
JOHANNESBURG, 26 July 2006 (PlusNews) - A new version of the second-line antiretroviral (ARV) drug, Kaletra, began arriving in parts of West and Southern Africa this week, thanks to the efforts of the international medical charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

MSF has been trying to obtain the updated heat-resistant formulation of the drug from Abbott Laboratories for almost a year, after hearing that it was already on shelves in the US but not yet available in developing countries, where it was desperately needed.

The new version of Kaletra can be safely stored without using a refrigerator and need not be taken with food - both critical advantages to HIV-positive people in resource-poor areas.

Although pleased with the achievement, Marta Darder, who coordinates access to essential medicines at MSF, told PlusNews that much more still had to be done to make the drug universally accessible, including in Asia and Latin America.

"The drugs are currently only available in three African countries, but what of all the other resource-limited settings across the globe where erratic electricity supply is an everyday occurrence?" Darder commented.

Shipments of new Kaletra arrived in Cameroon and South Africa last week, followed by another consignment this Tuesday in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.

Kaletra is already being used as a second-line treatment regimen by the South African government in its national ARV rollout programme.

The medication has not yet been officially registered in the recipient countries, and "special authorisation" was obtained after MSF met with drug regulatory officials.

"Despite earlier concerns about the cost of the newer version [which retails at US$9,000 per person per year], we also managed to secure these shipments at the price of the older version [$500 per person per year], and yet this is just a drop in the ocean when considering the true extent of the pandemic in Africa."

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 10 percent of the world's population, but has an estimated 60 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

"What we need now is for all stakeholders to help us put even more pressure on Abbott. Governments and civil service organisations are encouraged to work with MSF to secure greater stocks of this vital drug," said Darder.

South African AIDS lobby group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is already supporting MSF's drug access drive by suggesting that Abbott grant licenses to generic drug firms, allowing them to manufacture even cheaper versions of the life-prolonging medicine.

"This win for MSF is an important development for wider access to second-line ARV therapies in poor countries, but even the cost of the older versions of Kaletra is still too exorbitant for many people living below the poverty line," TAC's Nathan Geffen told PlusNews.

Geffen pointed out that even at $500 per year, Kaletra remained the costliest anti-AIDS drug on the international market.

The medicine is a key second-line ARV that is used after HIV-positive people develop severe side effects from first-line combinations, or resistance to them - a growing problem, according to MSF.

Drug manufacturers and regulatory authorities have been told that unless they start fast-tracking the availability of affordable second-line drugs, a crisis could occur as larger numbers of patients start developing resistance to first-line treatments.

Abbott, who is the sole suppliers of Kaletra, said it was working as fast as possible to have the new version of its drug registered in developing countries.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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