Ghana Producing Anti-retroviral Drugs To Support HIV/AIDS Patients

Anti retroval drugWhen Charity Owusu Danso lost her husband in 2002 after a lingering illness, she had no idea he had died of AIDS. But a routine blood test for her shortly thereafter, revealed that she was HIV positive.

“I sunk into depression and totally neglected myself,” said Charity who lives in Accra, adding that “I thought I would die.”
With the help of counselling and a support group for people living with HIV, Charity slowly began to pick up. Then, in 2004, she became eligible for antiretroviral therapy. It changed her life.

“Antiretrovirals have made it easier for people living with HIV,” Charity said, contending that “in the old days there was no cure. Right now I manage my HIV.”
The benefits of antiretrovirals for people living with HIV are well known. They help people live longer and healthier lives. Now Ghanaians have another reason to celebrate: these life-saving antiretrovirals are locally produced.

Africa has seen a marked decline in the number of HIV infections and related deaths between 2001 and 2011. Ghana has been particularly successful recording a 66 percent drop in new infections over that period, according to data from UNAIDS.

Thanks to an aggressive campaign to make antiretroviral drugs and testing available to pregnant women, the rate of transmission from Ghanaian HIV-positive mothers to their children between 2009 and 2012, also fell by 31 per cent.

For Rev. Kwashie Azumah who has lived with the virus since 2001, the benefits of antiretrovirals are without dispute. “I owe my life to ARV’s,” he states.

Lydia, his wife, who is also HIV positive, began treatment when she was already severely weakened by HIV. Within weeks the drugs gave her a new lease of life.

Today, the Azumahs live robust, active lives, directing a national advocacy campaign for people living with HIV known as the Heart To Heart Ambassadors. None of their four children has the virus – even though three of them were born after they were diagnosed HIV-positive.

“Our children were born completely virus-free because my wife was on antiretroviral treatment throughout her pregnancies, “ Azumah said.
In 2003, more than a decade after the first AIDS cases were seen in Ghana, 73,000 people infected with HIV became the first group in the country to start antiretroviral therapy.

Charity was among those who started treatment in the second year and counts herself fortunate to have been selected.
“Initially we weren’t too sure. We didn’t have enough information,” Charity said, remembering her early reservations. “They gave us blood tests. We were like ok, let’s wait and see.”
A whopping 95 per cent of the group are still alive and continue treatment, according to Dr. Nii Akwei Addo, the head of Ghana’s National AIDS Control Program.

Over 80 per cent of antiretroviral treatment in Ghana is imported from overseas companies mainly located in India, but both the Azumahs and Charity also take treatment produced by Danadams, a Ghanaian award-winning pharmaceutical company that began production in 2005.
“I’m never without mine. I actually prefer the Danadams combination formulas. It means less pills and I tolerate them very well,” said Azumah.

It’s clinic day three times a week at the Fevers Unit of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital , a quiet building at Ghana’s flagship hospital.
“Antiretrovirals have changed the face of the disease,” said Ernest Kenu, a doctor at the unit, which is a leading center for antiretroviral therapy.

Among the dozens of patients lined up on chairs and benches are people living with HIV waiting to receive the life-saving treatment.
“I have seen people carried into hospital preparing for their funerals only to walk out again after a few months on treatment into the jobs they thought they had lost forever,” said Kenu.

In 2003, the Fevers Unit began a pilot program to treat patients with antiretrovirals and now treats 18,000 people living with the virus each year, Kenu said. The unit also provides testing and counseling services.

There are other surprise benefits too, Kenu said. “Previously childless HIV positive couples give birth to healthy babies after a few months of antiretroviral treatment. We thought their problems were due to fertility issues. It has saved marriages,” Kenu said.

As Africa slowly begins to make inroads against the disease, Ghana’s challenge is to sustain its advances with a dedicated HIV-AIDS program.

While Ghana has seen a rise in the number of people living with HIV on antiretroviral treatment, only about 70 per cent of those needing treatment are currently covered. The treatment is for a lifetime, so guaranteeing supply is crucial.

At the moment, Danadams is the only Ghanaian manufacturer of antiretroviral drugs. As such, it could play a vital role in meeting growing demand, said its owner Dr. Yaw Adu Gyamfi, a pharmacist, who trained in the United States.
“We need to build local capacity and stop this reliance on imports,” Adu Gyamfi said.

Danadams has been commended highly for its innovation. But because it does not meet World Health Organisation prequalification standards, it cannot compete for government tenders for the medicine. Despite producing seven licensed antiretrovirals, it currently supplies less than 20 percent of the local market, Adu Gyamfi said.

Still antiretroviral drugs supplied by Danadams have helped to fill in the gaps during a recent spate of shortages of the medicines in the country, according to Adu Gyamfi.

“When the government runs out, they come to us,” Adu Gyamfi said, adding that the stock outs as they are known, occurred mostly because of funding and logistics problems.

The government which has stated its support for Danadams and locally produced antiretrovirals, is in talks with UN and other donors about financing a joint venture between itself and the private sector including Danadams, to invest in the manufacture of antiretrovirals.

Adu Gyamfi said it could do more to help. Meanwhile, he said, tax breaks on raw materials and packaging were helping to reduce costs and make Danadams antiretrovirals competitive.

The company is using recently acquired loans to upgrade its facility to comply with WHO pre-qualification standards.
“We stand poised to become a national and regional supplier of antiretroviral drugs,” Adu Gyamfi said.
For Charity and the thousands of other Ghanaians living with HIV, more and cheaper antiretroviral treatment can only be good news.

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment