New strawberry flavoured ARV drug makes treatment a little sweeter for HIV+ kids

A strawberry-flavoured tablet distributed in six African countries, the first generic paediatric version of a key anti-retroviral, is making it easier for children living with HIV/Aids to take the lifesaving medication.

UNITAID and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) funding procured 100 000 packs of the dolutegravir formulation across Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Benin, according UNITAID’s spokesperson, Herve Verhoosel.

Zimbabwean mother, Farisai Sekenya whose 3-year-old son, Felani was born HIV positive, has welcomed the flavoured medication. She believes that Felani is underweight and unable to walk because he has not been taking in enough ARVs.

“I used to mix all the medication together. I would crush it up because it was bitter, but he would spit it out or vomit. I even tried giving him sweets soon after the medication, but that didn’t help. So his viral load kept rising because he wasn’t taking the full doses,” Farisai explains.

Felani was moved on to a new treatment regime, which includes the strawberry flavoured dolutegravir in June.

“When I give him that he doesn’t spit or vomit. It has also helped improve his appetite because he is eating better now,” she says.

About 1.8 million children worldwide live with HIV, but only half receive any treatment, often hard to administer due to the bitter taste or incorrectly dosed by crushing adult pills. Some 100 000 children die of Aids annually.

“With the recent delivery of the formulation in those six first countries, this project is now reality,” Verhoosel, who is visiting the United Arab Emirates, said of the initiative first announced in December.

He said this procurement is designed to kickstart demand and that major donors have “rapidly moved to sustainable onward procurement, which will enable national scale-up and widespread access for all eligible children at an unprecedented pace”.

The first-line HIV treatment is recommended by the World Health Organization from the age of four weeks and 3kg, but it had been out of reach for babies because of the lack of appropriate formulations.

UNITAID and CHAI had reached a pricing agreement with the generic drugmakers Viatris and Macleods for the dispersible paediatric formulation of dolutegravir.

The estimated cost for combination therapy will now be $120 for a child’s annual treatment, against $480 currently, making it a “game-changer” for poorer countries, UNITAID said.

Verhoosel said a partnership with Medicines Patent Pool allowed for voluntary licensing agreements across 121 countries.

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