South Africa to Provide Nevirapine to HIV-Positive Pregnant Women in ‘Pilot Project’
The South African government on Friday announced the launch of a year-long pilot program in which 18 hospitals and clinics will give the antiretroviral drug nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women, the Associated Press reports. According to government officials, the program aims to study nevirapine's effectiveness in reducing vertical transmission "outside of a controlled environment." Antiretroviral drugs are not available through the country's public health system because, authorities argue, they are "unaffordable" and their "safety has yet to be proven." The South African Medicines Control Council approved nevirapine for use in the prevention of HIV transmission in rape cases and from pregnant women to their unborn infants "about a month ago," according to Dr. Noro Sinalela, head of the health department's HIV/AIDS program, a move of which most AIDS activists said they were "unaware." Jo-Anne Collinge, a spokesperson for the health department, said that the announcement "did not initiate a major policy shift," but was part of an effort to "step up" research on nevirapine "outside of the research settings." Along with the drug, the government will also provide "milk powder," in order to "minimize" the chance of a mother passing HIV on to her child while breastfeeding. Sharon Ekambaram of the AIDS consortium, an alliance of 300 AIDS service groups, called the decision a "huge step forward" and a "sign of political will to deal with [HIV/AIDS]" (Cohen, Associated Press, 1/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.