South Africa’s Nevirapine Program to Prevent Vertical Transmission to Begin in March, Washington Post Reports
Beginning in March, public hospitals in every South African province will test all pregnant women for HIV and administer the antiretroviral drug nevirapine to those who test positive, the Washington Post reports in a front-page story today. Public health officials and AIDS activists, who met recently with government officials, said that the government will provide the drug, known to "dramatically" reduce vertical transmission rates, and a six-month supply of formula to mothers in an attempt to reduce the number of infected newborn infants -- a number currently estimated to be 70,000 infants a year. The government has "refused until now to provide even donated medicines to indigent AIDS patients or those infected with HIV," the Post reports, but President Thabo Mbeki "hinted at a shift" in government policy last October. The plan, which has not officially been announced, will begin on a "limited basis," but expand "before year's end." German drug manufacturer Boehringer-Ingelheim will donate nevirapine to South Africa over the next five years, but it is "unclear" if the donation will meet the demand, or if additional doses will have to be purchased. "Few" expect the government to provide expensive combination antiretroviral therapy, which can cost more than most South Africans earn in a year, to HIV/AIDS patients -- an estimated 20% of the population. However, a 200 milligram dose of nevirapine, administered to a woman in labor, and a 2 milligram dose, administered to the infant within 72 hours of birth, have been shown to reduce the transmission rate to 13% at a cost of roughly $4 per case, according to a 1999 joint United States/Ugandan study. Quarraisha Karim, director of South Africa's Center for Epidemiological Research, called the program a "good start," adding, "We've been fighting to get this program implemented for the last three to four years." But Zachie Achmat, coordinator of the Treatment Action Campaign, said, "We are way behind where we should be in fighting this disease. ... This program ... is just too little at this point (Jeter, Washington Post, 2/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.