Women living with HIV and Aids from sub-Saharan Africa, including Zimbabwe, staged a demonstration at the 2018 Aids conference in Amsterdam, demanding that line ministries stay clear of their decision to use Dolutegravir, an anti-retroviral drug for adolescent girls and women of child-bearing age.
The protest came in response to recent decisions in some countries, Zimbabwe included, to withdraw Dolutegravir from women due to safety concerns over the use of the drug in the early stages of pregnancy.
Last month, government deferred the national rollout of Dolutegravir following reports from Botswana that the drug was associated with deformities in infants born to HIV positive mothers taking the drug at the time of conception.
The drug is used for third line treatment meant for people who would have failed to respond to first and second options of ARVs.
Health ministry statistics indicate that 200 people living with HIV were taking the drug as a third line, from which 108 of them were women — some of whom could have been of child-bearing age.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given the greenlight to the use of the drug by rolling out new anti-retroviral treatment guidelines recommending Dolutegravir-based treatment as the preferred option for all adults, adolescents and children, including women and adolescent girls who have access to consistent and reliable contraception.
Speakers at the conference said the decision highlights the huge gap in access to reliable contraception and its lack of integration into HIV programmes, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where access to sexual and reproductive health services is emerging as a major challenge facing HIV treatment programmes.
They also agreed that line ministries and women living with HIV need to balance the risk of neural tube defects — which are reduced by folic acid supplementation.
Countries were also urged to consider the balance of risk and benefits at local levels.
These include fertility levels, contraceptive availability and coverage, levels of anti-retroviral drug resistance and drug availability.
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