By: Selma Taapopi
The Ministry of Health and Social Services ( MoHSS) has achieved a significant milestone of transitioning 97 percent of children and adolescents on antiretroviral therapy (ART) to the paediatric formulation of the ARV drug called Dolutegravir (pDTG) for those weighing between 3 kg and 20 kg. The drug is more effective at suppressing HIV viral loads than other medicines currently used. According to data from the health ministry, there are 11 727 children and adolescents on antiretroviral therapy between the ages of 0-19 years old. From this figure, a total of 11 325 children or 97 percent, were transitioned to the paediatric formulation of Dolutegravir by July 2022.
Speaking at a media conference, Chief clinical mentor, Dr Leonard Bikinesi, said the previous ARV drug used for children, Lopinavir, when compared to the new regimen Dolutegravir (pDTG) was intolerable for children and contributed to poor adherence. "The introduction of pDTG was a welcome development in so many ways. The drug has a strawberry cream taste which promotes adherence to medication as most children prefer sweet taste. It dissolves easily in water and is easy to take and it is taken once daily. Studies have shown that DTG is more effective at achieving viral load suppression than other ARV medicines currently used and it has a very higher genetic barrier to resistance thus best suited to this age group which at times struggle with adherence,” Bikinesi said. Health deputy Dr. Esther Muinjangue said many children with HIV in Namibia were either born with the virus , acquired it during breast feeding or later in life through other means. Muinjangue stated that children with HIV transitioned to the DTG quality of life has improved and that mortality and morbidity has been reduced. "Not only has the country transitioned the majority of children and adolescents living with HIV in Namibia to Dolutegravir based regimen, but this was achieved during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. This achievement together with all other achievements made in the space of HIV and other diseases is the testimony of how effective the multi-sectoral approach is in achieving intended results. In this case, ending HIV as a public health threat by 2030," stated Muinjangue. US Embassy Charge d’ Affairs Jessica Long, said although the medicine was produced to make it easy to take, it can still be hard for children to remember to keep taking it every day. Long also noted that for chronic diseases such as HIV, the medicine must be taken every day to keep the virus under control and to stay healthy. Long also took the opportunity to tell parents and guardians to always remind children to stay on their medication.