Don’t lose focus on AIDS control during Covid pandemic

Satyanarayana Chava | Updated on December 01, 2020 Published on December 01, 2020

India needs to boost domestic production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients, which are important for antiretroviral drugs used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS

At the recent G20 summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi correctly diagnosed the Covid-19 pandemic as “the biggest challenge the world is facing since World War II.” While Covid-19 has devastated communities and topped the agenda worldwide, we must not forget that the AIDS pandemic has been raging for the last 30 years and remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases in history. It must, therefore, be kept high on the global public health agenda.

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 38 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) worldwide, and only 81 per cent of them know their HIV positive status. About 1.7 million new infections are recorded annually, and an estimated 690,000 people still die from HIV/AIDS-related causes every year.

UNAIDS has set up the 95-95-95 HIV treatment targets, with the objective that by the year 2025, 95 per cent of all people living with HIV are aware of their status, 95 per cent of those diagnosed receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 95 per cent of those receiving antiretroviral therapy achieve viral suppression. As awareness about the disease keeps growing, this target fulfilment has nurtured an increasing demand for ARVs to treat patients and prevent new infections.

Domestic capacity

Combating AIDS is an important global priority today and we need to improve our domestic capacity when it comes to Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs). These are important not just for antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, which are crucial in the battle against HIV/AIDS, but also areas like oncology, Hepatitis C, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular.

While the world battles a pandemic, it’s important that we don’t take our eyes off the ball as far as AIDS is concerned. While much progress has been made in combating this disease, more needs to be done. As we celebrate World AIDS Day, the need of the hour is to constantly innovate and be a step ahead of the disease from a prevention point of view.

Back in 2006, newer molecules like Efavirenz and Tenofovir had come into vogue and process patents were available which not only reduced costs but, more importantly, made it easier to scale up manufacturing to meet the urgent requirements of millions of PLHIV. And companies like Laurus Labs have been at the forefront of the battle and have contributed to the enhancing of the country’s manufacturing base when it comes to APIs and innovation.

Strategic tie-ups

As a country, we need more strategic tie-ups with the network of international fund agencies (Global Fund, USAID, KEMSA, UNDP, etc.), in partnership with successive Ministries of Health, civil society bodies, and the private sector, in the form of multi-year contracts, underline the vital role played by public-private partnerships.

And this helps. Following the USFDA approval for the Tenofovir /Lamivudine/Dolutegravir 300/300/50mg (TLD) FDC in February 2019, a global mission was launched to treat millions of HIV/AIDS patients worldwide with a safer alternative. This is especially important for vulnerable sections of the world population such as Sub-Saharan Africa where volume commitments should be made for easier offtake.

International fund agencies must come forward with programmes which are designed to accelerate disease control programmes for AIDS.

With the pandemic catapulting healthcare to top policy priority worldwide, it’s important for the government to create a conducive and collaborative environment for the public and private sectors to work in tandem, investing in diagnostics, testing and tracing, as well as in prophylactic and therapeutic purpose.

Smarter response

Moreover, it’s extremely important to remember that chronic health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, which tend to aggravate post-Covid-19 infection, need an even smarter response from the public and private players alike. Booming sectors like healthcare supplements also need crucial public investment as well as regulatory oversight, and it’s important for the government and companies to work together to ensure availability and public awareness.

We need the generics industry to step up and deliver when it counts the most. Generic companies must help meet the need, not just for ARVs but also other therapeutic areas, including diabetic, cardiovascular, and oncology. The focus should be on relentless innovation to effectively increase the access of ARVs for the yet-to-treat PLHIV. This is a key way in expanding India’s API capacity which will only happen if we prioritise R&D facilities and Customs Synthesis.

In the wake of the global disruptions induced by Covid-19, it is vital to ensure continuity of ARV supplies and expand access for second-line and paediatric ARVs in novel dosage forms, thus ensuring access to all age groups of PLHIV.

The writer is Founder and CEO, Laurus Labs

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Published on December 01, 2020
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