Limpopo HIV patients pleased with single ART pill

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As the world marks World AIDS Day on Friday, some Limpopo HIV-positive patients who are on the fixed-dose Anti-Retro Viral single pill, have lauded government’s efforts to deliver the life-saving treatment.

Government started phasing in the single pill named Atroiza in 2013.

More than 75% of HIV positive people in Limpopo, who receive treatment government facilities, are receiving the fixed-dose single pill.

Patients say they experience minimal to zero side effects on the pill.

Fourty-seven-year old Maria Tshwale says she was one of the first people to receive anti-retro viral treatment at her local clinic in Mpepule village outside Giyani in 2004.

Tshwale was also one of the first to be switched to the fixed-dose single pill when it was brought to her clinic in 2013.

“It was on December 2004 when I started taking my ART. It was not easy. I was taking two in the morning and three in the evening. It was making my stomach big and something big on my neck and after that they changed me to the SBC and I take one table per day in the evening and that fat, the big stomach and something on my neck it is reduced.”

Other users also say they have been experiencing minimal side effects since they started using the fixed-dose single pill.

“On the first treatment, when I started to use it, there was a lot of side effects and then the new one is okay for me. I don’t have that nightmares when I sleep at night,” says another patient.

Doctor John McCutcheon, who is a medical officer at the Limpopo Department of Health’s AIDS Clinic, says 90% of patients respond positively to the fixed-dose single pill.

“The single pill is very effective. Most of the people have very few side effects the good thing about it is that it has three medications in a single tablet and the response in terms of reducing the viruses in the body is very good, within the first three months the virus starts to come down and the measure of resistance in CD4 goes up what we do is before we start treatment is routine tests we can tell whether the single tablet will work and probably in 90% of the patients it will be fine and it will be effective.”

In September, Health Minister doctor Aaron Motsoaledi announced the introduction of a cheaper fixed-dose single pill HIV treatment that is expected to be rolled-out in 2018.

Minister Motsoaledi says the new pill is projected to save the public health sector about R11 billion over the next six years.

Doctor McCutcheon says even more positive milestones can be expected in coming years as HIV research is making strides daily.

“What is exciting about working in AIDS is that when I started some years ago, it was a real battle with not-so-bad side effects and not-so-much tablets, morning and nights. Now, we have discussed the single tablet and when we look at the future, we see research being done on treatment which might later need not be taken daily.”

Limpopo Health MEC, Doctor Phophi Ramathuba says the fixed-dose single pill is also contributing towards the reduction in the transmission of HIV from mothers to their unborn babies.

Doctor McCutcheon has, however, reiterated that HIV remains a very dangerous virus and has advised people to practice safe sex to prevent new infections.