Africa: Scientists Support Use of HIV Drug Linked to Birth Defects in Babies

Researchers have warned countries against stopping the use of a drug linked to birth defects in HIV-positive women
Researchers have warned countries against stopping the use of a drug linked to birth defects in HIV-positive women. They said the decision to ban the drug was arrived at without outweighing the benefits and risks of dolutegravir (DTG) in women living with the virus.
Presenting different papers on the drug at the third international HIV and Aids conference on research for prevention in Madrid, Spain, the researchers said there is need for a full picture of antiretroviral safety across the lifespan of women before an action is taken. Dr Sharon Hiller from the University of Pittsburg, US, said there was no data to confirm that the drug was risky and banning it was patriarchal. “With the position taken by most countries, it clearly says that women must just take what they are given and that don’t have a voice to choose. We are robbing the women off choices. It is fault protection; it is patriarchal. We need to stop,” she said during a presentation on striking a balance. The Health ministry in July asked counties to stop prescribing DTG to HIV-positive women. This was after a warning from the international regulators, US Food and Drugs Administration and the European Medicines Agency. Studies had shown that women with HIV taking the drug at the time of conception or during the first trimester of pregnancy appear to be at higher risk of giving birth to babies with neural tube defects. Neural tube defects in babies can occur early in pregnancy when the spinal cord, brain, and related structures do not form properly during the first trimester. Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko directed county health directors to ensure that expectant and breastfeeding mothers to whom a front-line drug had been prescribed, continue their current prescription until they stop breastfeeding. But those of childbearing age of between 15 and 49 years, who are on the drug, should be given the first-line treatment Efavirenz. “I advocate for women to be told the risk in a clear way that can be understood to decide for themselves. If they cannot tolerate a drug, then they should be placed on another. If she goes off treatment to become pregnant because of the rare birth effects, she is risking her life and the baby,” Dr Hiller said.

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