Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, China’s Yunan Province to Provide Combination Therapy in Country’s Largest HIV/AIDS Treatment Program
Researchers of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York have teamed with officials from China's Yunan province to develop the country's largest HIV/AIDS treatment program, the South China Morning Post reports. The three-year program, which will be overseen by Dr. Cao Yunzhen of Aaron Diamond in collaboration with officials from the Yunan Center for Disease Control, aims to offer combination antiretroviral therapy to about 300 people. Currently, only about 250 of China's estimated one million HIV-positive people are receiving antiretroviral therapy (Jenkins, South China Morning Post, 10/22). Program participants will be given the drug Trizivir, a single pill consisting of the antiretroviral drugs zidovudine, lamivudine and abacivir that is taken twice a day. GlaxoSmithKline, which holds the patent on the medication, will supply the drug for the program (Qin, China Daily, 10/22). Dr. Zang Mahong, director of the Yunan Center for Disease Control's AIDS program, said the drug has proven effective in controlling HIV infection in other populations. She noted that the combination drug can produce "severe" side effects, such as dizziness, digestive disorders, hair loss, insomnia, depression, joint pain and seizures. Some patients may also experience a potentially life-threatenting allergic reaction to abacavir. Zang said that all program participants had signed consent forms and will be monitored for side effects in a hospital for the first 24 hours that they are undergoing treatment. They will also receive regular medical exams, for which they will have to pay. All other program expenses will be covered by Aaron Diamond and GSK. Zang noted that her office is investigating continuing therapy after the three-year program expires using a domestically produced generic version of Trizivir. However, Chinese firms currently produce only two of the necessary three drugs.
A Model for China
According to Zang, Yunan was selected as the program site because of its high rate of HIV infection. The province sits "just opposite" the Golden Triangle -- an area known for its heroin trade -- and has experienced an HIV/AIDS "explosion," due in large part to widespread needle sharing and prostitution (South China Morning Post, 10/22). Aaron Diamond Director and CEO Dr. David Ho said he anticipates that the program will serve as a model for large-scale treatment programs in other provinces and noted that the program should also help raise awareness about the need for treatment in China (Xinhua News Agency, 10/21). "We have worked closely along with our Chinese counterparts to develop a treatment program that not only provides drugs, but also invests in the local health care infrastructure," Ho said. The Yunan provincial government is expected to spend $2.9 million on upgrading its AIDS laboratory to support the treatment program (China Daily, 10/22).