Newly launched HIV treatment adherence campaign in KZN fails to address security of supply of ARVs in SA

by Tia

The Minister of Health, Dr. Joe Phaahla, officiated the launch of a new HIV treatment adherence campaign in the uThukela District of KwaZulu-Natal today, on May 7th. While this initiative and its intended impact offers a testament to our country’s continued effort to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, it fails to address the fact that we have not improved access to quality, locally produced antiretrovirals (ARVs) in South Africa. 

While our government must continue to educate people about the U=U campaign (Undetectable equals Untransmissible), which was initially launched by the Prevention Access Campaign globally as far back as 2016, it should not ignore the fact that this will only be possible if people living with HIV/AIDS maintain strict adherence to their ARV treatment plan. This remains a critical undertaking, as South African citizens have endured the largest number of HIV infections globally for nearly 35 years. 

“Given the socio-economic makeup of HIV patients in South Africa, most rely on government-provided ARVs for effective treatment. In 2022, the South African government tendered for the production and supply of ARVs to be distributed to South Africans; 51% of the production capacity was handed to locally based producers, with the remaining 49% entrusted to Indian manufacturers. It is clear that we are capable of producing the medicine needed to combat the HIV epidemic, and as such, there is no reason why local manufacturers should not have access to the lion’s share of this market. Ultimately, our government needs to place greater trust in domestic producers by creating an enabling environment for the production and manufacture of ARVs in SA” argues Michael Mynhardt, CEO and Co-Founder of MMH & Partners Africa. 

From a self-sufficiency perspective, greater domestic production also means greater security in terms of access to ARVs; from a long-term perspective, greater domestic production also ensures we can keep up the momentum in the fight against HIV. 

From an economic perspective, whether it is produced locally or abroad, producers are remunerated – but if produced locally, jobs are created, ARV production grows, and adjacent, upstream, and downstream industries benefit. The local creation and provision of active ingredients of ARVs, for example, similarly benefits South Africa’s access to ARVs over the long term. 

“If we produce ARVs locally, we can distribute them to other African countries as well. This would ultimately contribute to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (Africa CDC) vision to build a new public health order by ensuring equitable access to medicine on the continent” adds Mynhardt. 

“Being self-reliant and self-sufficient in terms of our medicinal needs ensures that our most immediate health concerns can be addressed in the presence of destabilising global phenomena, while promoting the development of the industry and incentivizing job creation. In the case of the HIV epidemic, this would ensure that a long-term plan to overcome the disease is realistic, achievable, and less-dependent on external actors affected by their own problems. Self-sufficiency, in this case, is a clear avenue to improve the health security of all South Africans” concludes Mynhardt. 

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