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HIV generic drug for babies distributed in Africa, says UNITAID

Aid agencies have distributed a strawberry-flavoured tablet for children living with HIV in six African countries, the first generic pediatric version of a key anti-retroviral, global health agency UNITAID said on Sunday.

UNITAID and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) funding procured 100,000 packs of the dolutegravir formulation across Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Benin, UNITAD’s spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in statement to Reuters.

Some 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 6 first countries, this project is now reality,” Verhoosel, who is visiting the United Arab Emirates, said of the initiative first announced last 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 3 kilos (6.6 pounds), 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 (VTRS.O) and Macleods for the dispersible pediatric formulation of dolutegravir.

The estimated cost for combination therapy will now be some $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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