Safer Anti-HIV drugs to replace Stavudine

THE move by the Ministry of Health to phase out a first line drug for HIV (Stavudine) and replace it with safer and better tolerated drugs, Tenofovir and Zidovine, is a good gesture that has come too late. The withdrawal of Stavudine from the antiretroviral treatment programme has come 10 years after it was introduced and obviously hundreds, if not thousands, have since suffered its chronic side effects.

THE Ministry of health is yet to phase out the first line ARV drug Stavudine to pave way for more effective drugs, Tenofovir and Zidovine THE move by the Ministry of Health to phase out a first line drug for HIV (Stavudine) and replace it with safer and better tolerated drugs, Tenofovir and Zidovine, is a good gesture that has come too late.

The withdrawal of Stavudine from the antiretroviral treatment programme has come 10 years after it was introduced and obviously hundreds, if not thousands, have since suffered its chronic side effects.

Recently, the National Anti-retroviral Co-ordinator, Dr. Albert Mwango announced the Ministry of Health’s intention to withdraw Stavudine from the public as it has been found to have a number of defects.

Stavudine has been linked with high toxicity, adverse effects on cholesterol metabolism, painful neuropathy, pancreatitis, sunken cheeks and buffalo humps.

It will now be replaced with Tenofovir and Zidovine.

Now one might wonder, is it that Zambia or Africa at large does not have the capacity to carry out meaningfull research and submit to the manufacturers of these drugs?

Or is it that Zambia and Africa are grounds for the many on-going pilot projects from unscrupulous scientists that want to make quick money?

Well to some extent this could be blamed on lack of capacity and adequate resources to carry out huge projects visa a viz medical invention and research and also lack of political will.

Speaking in an interview with the Lusaka Star, a 43 year old Matero Anti-retroviral treatment beneficiary, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that he was not hopeful that the newly introduced drugs will be able to cure his complications which have arisen from taking Stavudine.

He said the move will obviously be more beneficial to new patients that will be initiated to the new drug and not those that have been using it for over 5 years.

“It is a good move but unfortunately not for us who have already been permanently deformed by that drug, the new comers will instead benefit” he said.

Meanwhile, a 3rd year University of Zambia Pharmacy student(name withheld) explained that it was quite unfortunate that only a few, if any, of  medical research projects of such nature are going on in Zambia.

He said there was need to make huge investments in health institutions so as to generate the capacity for vital medical research projects if Zambia is to protect its patients.

“Currently there is nothing that can be done to reverse the effects but there is need to invest in health institutions like UNZA School of Medicine so that we are able to conduct timely research” he said.

Another Lusaka resident and A.R.T beneficiary (38) said that he will accept to be administered with the new drug as he is optimistic of getting better even if it has come to late.

“Nanga tizachita bwanji boss?mankhwala yamene aya nikuyamwa che because yazatitandiza” he said.

He said there was nothing more he could do but to continue even with the newly introduced drug as he believed he will prolong his life in some way.

The National Aids Council (NAC), has decided to shift to the new regimen in two phases. In phase 1 adult patients on Stavudine for 6-24 months will be shifted to Tenofovir or Zidovine  as soon as possible.

Those who have undergone treatment for longer will be shifted in phase two which will probably start a few months from now.

No new adult shall be initiated on Stavudine based regimen, new anaemic patients will be started on Tenofovir based regimen and non anaemics on Zidovudine.

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