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Alarm as new HIV infections rise among teenagers

 Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu during a press conference at Afya House on Thursday 5th October 2017.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Kenya has reported increased spending on initiatives to fight Aids in the last three years.

In his World Aids Day speech, Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu said expenditure on HIV programmes rose from Sh20.4 billion in 2014 to Sh26.4 billion last year.

Currently, 1.1 million people living with HIV are on anti-retroviral drugs. However, the CS raised the alarm over high rates of new infections.

“Half of all new infections in 2016 occurred among young people aged between 15-24 which translates to 100 new infections daily,” said Dr Mailu.

To prevent new HIV and Aids infections the Ministry of Health targets to put 500,000 people on the pill Truvada, manufactured by Gilead Sciences of the US.

Gilead Sciences on the other hand reported global sale revenues in excess of $10.2 billion from Truvada for the period 2014 to 2016.

The 2016 total sale revenue for Gilead, from all products, is reported at $30.39 billion (about Sh3 trillion). This is more than Kenya’s Sh2.6 national budget for 2017/18 financial year. Gilead has about 9,000 employees.

Data from the Statista Inc, a global research company shows the top three HIV medicines by sales in 2016 are Truvada and Atripla from Gilead and Triumeq by GlaxoSmithKline which fetched about $8 billion.

Earlier in the year Mylan and Aurobindo Pharma of India but with strong US presence registered generics of Truvada in Kenya for use in HIV prevention. Aurobindo has about 16,000 employees.

Many of the generic HIV medicines in Africa come from Mylan Laboratories of Hyderland India, a subsidiary of Mylan NV, an American global generic manufacturer registered in the Netherlands.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), has approved $500 million (Sh51.5 billion) for HIV control in Kenya for the year 2018, approximately 52 per cent going into importing of biomedicals.

“This is why I am going to push for Kenya and East African countries to enhance their capacity to manufacture and distribute own HIV medicines,” says Joe Muriuki.

Mr Muriuki, a lecturer at Mt Kenya University, who has gone public about his HIV positive status says it is time the region turned Aids into an avenue for various opportunities like the West and Asia have done.

Shut them out

 “HIV is now a major revenue earner and employer in the West, India, China and Brazil who are exporting huge quantities of biomedicals to Africa. Why not us?” He posed.

Local pharmaceutical firms like Cosmos, Legal and Universal Corporation have since 2011 installed capacity to produce ARVs, with the latter prequalified WHO.

“We have the capacity and technology to produce ARVs and even bid for international tenders,” says Palu Dhanani, chairman of the Federation of Kenya Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.

But discriminative government policies, he says shut them out of supply tenders enjoyed by foreign manufacturers. Local scientists have also been accused of promoting and justifying the consumption of foreign HIV technologies instead of developing local solutions.

For example, at the 19th International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa, (ICASA) on December 9th in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenyans were to present 234 scientific papers.

A look at the papers show more than 80 per cent either justifying or calling for increased use of imported technologies. The conference is sponsored by the pharmaceutical firms, Gilead, Mylan and Roche of Switzerland, On Monday Simon Sedaula Mwangi was to present; “Consumer Demand Driven for HIV Prevention Pills among adolescent girls and young women in Kenya.”

Such language is hardly present in the 2017 HIV drug development catalogue – HIV pipeline 2017- published by the lobby group HIV i-Base of UK.

Of the 23 new compounds being developed for new HIV drugs and featured in the 2017 catalogue none is from Kenya or any African countries.

All of these are being developed  by US and Europe pharmaceuticals mostly concentrated around Gilead, GSK, ViiV Healthcare of Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, Merck of US and Janssen of America’s Johnson & Johnson.

“We are seeing two district sciences; one representing technology development in Western counties and ours to justify consumption of their products,” say a deputy director at the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation.


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