In South Africa, where 5.6 million people live with HIV/AIDS, treatment options were bleak at best — until now. The country has announced a new regimen that combines all of the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs a person with HIV/AIDS has to take into a single daily pill for only $10 per month. This will revolutionize treatment in the country, which suffered from a lack of necessary drugs despite its high population of infected individuals.
The pill, which has fewer side effects and is easier to swallow, is already being praised by patients who are eager to try it for themselves.
This has contributed to the high number of people who would simply stop taking their ARVs due to the cost and time commitment, making them ineffective. According to the South African National AIDS Council, the country has a significant problem keeping people on treatment programs, and this pill takes a huge strain off of those who may stray from the program for outside reasons.
"We have come a very long way since the advent of anti-retrovirals," said AIDS Council CEO Fareed Abdullah. "At one point, patients used to take up to 16 pills a day."
While Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi worries that the government will not be able to reach out to all those who need the drug, it is comforting that treatment access in the country increased 75% from 2009 to 2011. HIV-positive pregnant women and those newly infected with HIV will be the first to receive the new drug, with about 180,000 people due to start treatment in the next 3 months. After June, most patients will start to take the new drug.
Just a few years ago, South Africa refused to start a comprehensive ARV program, but now has the largest in the world — 20% of all ARVs are consumed in South Africa. It is finally serving to match the need for treatment, as the country's HIV/AIDS prevalence is the fourth-highest in the world, while it has the most people living with the disease.
As the treatment scales up, the country's already-low rate of 3% of pregnant women transmitting HIV/AIDS to their unborn child will decrease. South Africa's life expectancy is also expected to rise further; it already rose from 54 to 60 with the introduction of ARVs.
Lobbying groups are calling the introduction of the new pill a landmark victory for HIV/AIDS treatment. As education about the disease and how to reduce one's risk of transmitting it to others improves similarly, South Africa could quickly go from being one of the worst countries for those with HIV/AIDS to one of the safest.