HIV Positive Women Threaten to Sue Jubilee over Ban on ARV Drugs

HIV-positive women have threatened to go to court if the government does lift a ban on an antiretroviral drug.

The government through relevant bodies banned the drug recently found to cause birth defects in pregnant women.

Through International Community of Women Living with HIV-Kenya Vice Chairperson Patricia Asero, the women said the Health ministry’s decision to deny all women of reproductive age access to Dolutegravir (DTG) is unfair and curtails their right to attain the highest standard of care.

“DTG is a drug we have been dreaming to have access to and when the government makes a decision on our behalf without consulting us, it is denying us our fundamental rights,” she said.

“We take ARVs to suppress the virus and improve our health. Compared to Efavirenz, DTG has been shown to have better outcomes and, therefore, it is totally unfair for the government to deny us the drug.”

Health experts and civil society organisations have similarly disapproved the government’s decision to stop issuing the drug to women of childbearing age.

Last month the ministry ordered counties to stop prescribing DTG after preliminary findings of a study linked the drug to birth defects in HIV-positive women of childbearing age.

Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko also instructed county health directors to give Efavirenz, a first-line treatment, to women of childbearing age. He insisted DTG, launched in the Kenyan market last year, was not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women “due to limited safety data”.

Efavirenz (sold under the brand name Sustiva) is an anti-HIV drug that reduces the amount of virus in the body. Current World Health Organisation guidelines released in 2016 recommend Efavirenz as the preferred option in pregnancy.