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Africa inches closer to manufacturing anti-HIV rings

As pressure piles on governments to adopt new HIV prevention technologies, South Africa is leading the continent in producing affordable and accessible vaginal rings for HIV prevention- with a manufacturing plant in the offing.

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By Conrad ONYANGO

After approval for the use of vaginal rings by nearly a dozen countries, Africa is inching closer to local manufacturing of the world’s first fully woman-controlled HIV prevention device.

South Africa will be the first country on the continent to make and distribute the dapivirine vaginal ring (DVR) following a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between South Africa’s pharmaceutical manufacturer and medtech company, Kiara Health, and Population Council.

“Moving into the future with a long-term goal of commercial sustainability and local leadership, the Council is working toward granting an exclusive license for the DVR in the current territories to Kiara Health, based in Johannesburg, South Africa,” said Population Council, which helps build research capacities in developing countries, in a statement.

Currently, the rings are procured through the Council’s distribution partnership with a Netherlands-based medical relief wholesale distributor, Imres BV.

Under the MoU, Kiara Health will establish local manufacturing capabilities for the devices, including the transfer of technology, skills, and knowledge from the Population Council.

The two partners will also work together to acquire resources, grant funding, and technical assistance for technology transfer, regulatory certification, marketing, and distribution operations, including WHO pre-qualification.

Kiara Health Chief Executive Officer, Dr Skhumbuzo Ngozwana said the initiative will make the rings cheaper and more readily available across the continent and help address Africa’s over-reliance on imports of medicines and medical technology products.

“We will deploy our experience and distribution network to grow Kiara Health’s women’s health portfolio and meet our purpose to provide affordable, accessible health solutions to all women who need them,” said Kiara Health Chief Executive Officer, Dr Skhumbuzo Ngozwana.

Population Council is also reportedly developing a longer-lasting dapivirine ring that women can use for three months instead of one month to significantly reduce costs and offer women a more convenient option to protect themselves.

“Development of this longer duration ring will be completed and submitted for regulatory approval in the next 12-18 months, after which Kiara Health will assume a leading role in ensuring its access,” said Population Council.

The vaginal rings have gained regulatory approval or authorization through import permits for use in 11 countries in East and Southern Africa.

Six countries: Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe are offering the ring to women through implementation and pilot studies.

A new HIV Prevention and Accountability report by Frontline Aids highlights that while nine African countries – Angola, Eswatini, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe – have made significant progress in reducing the number of new HIV infections, most are still not investing enough in HIV prevention measures.

While Zimbabwe has become a pioneer in Africa for the quick approval of new technologies, the report said that access to these products is being hindered by limited funding, lack of sustainability, poor demand creation, licensing issues for distributors, and inadequate guidelines across communities.

In Nigeria, funding shortages and unfounded concerns about the replacement of condoms with new technologies are jeopardizing the rollout of HIV prevention efforts, while Kenya is experiencing delays in approving new prevention technologies.

The report urged governments to remove access and cost barriers to treatment by expediting the approval process for the use of the dapivirine vaginal ring and allocating funding to make it available to people at risk of acquiring HIV.

“With effective tools and approaches to prevent HIV, including exciting new prevention technologies, it is vital that governments take the requisite steps in order to stop more people newly acquiring HIV around the world,” said Frontline AIDS Chair. Prof Nana Poku.

The latest report by Frontline Aids reveals that adolescent girls and young women in Africa are the most affected by HIV, with a shocking 3,100 adolescent girls and young women aged between 15 and 24 contracting the virus each week.

In 2022, an estimated 1.3 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV, and the spread of the virus is driven by marginalized communities such as sex workers, drug users, and those engaging in same-sex activities.

Distributed by bird story agency

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