A first shipment of a new HIV drug that has critical advantages for patients in poor countries arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday in what a humanitarian organization described as a big success in its access-to-drugs campaign.
The drug Kaletra, made by U.S. firm Abbott Laboratories Inc., does not need to be refrigerated, a major benefit for patients in Nigeria where electricity supplies are too erratic to ensure constant refrigeration.
Kaletra, a formulation of Abbott’s lopinavir/ritonavir drug, also requires patients to take fewer pills, increasing the chance of adherence, and it does not have to be taken with food, a benefit for patients who cannot afford three meals a day.
“It’s fantastic and we’re really happy, but a lot more needs to be done,” said Gina Bark, access campaigner at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders.
“We want other stakeholders to put in orders too to put further pressure on Abbott. We want patients to have access to the drug in many places, not just at the MSF clinic,” she said.
MSF has campaigned hard for Abbott to make Kaletra available in developing countries, especially Africa, since the drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration in October.
Sub-Saharan Africa has about 10 percent of the world’s population but 60 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS. Nigeria, with over 3 million HIV/AIDS victims, has the world’s third-biggest caseload after South Africa and India.
MSF, which provides anti-retroviral drugs for over 60,000 HIV/AIDS patients in nine countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has complained that the drug was not registered in developing countries. It has said Abbott was not doing enough to make the drug available in the places where it was most needed.
Abbott has responded that it was pursuing registration in developing countries as fast as possible and that it was making HIV medicines available in 69 of the world’s poorest countries.
In Nigeria, Kaletra has not yet been officially registered, but MSF obtained a special authorization from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control to start importing the drug.
“We have received our first order for six months. The number of patients using the drug increases every month and we expect to be treating around 200 patients by the end of the year at the Lagos clinic,” Bark said.
MSF is also campaigning for Abbott to sell the drug in poor countries at an affordable price.
The group persuaded Abbott to provide the first shipment of Kaletra to Nigeria for $500 per patient per year, which was the price of the old version of the drug. In the United States, Kaletra costs $9,000 per patient per year.
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD