South Africa: HIV Patients Revel in the One Pill a Day Age

Thandiswa Zamisa

Health-e [Cape Town]

Some people living with HIV used to take as many as six antiretroviral (ARV) pills daily. More than a year after South Africa’s introduction of a three-in-one daily ARV, patients are still raving about the convenient little pill.

Introduced in April 2013, South Africa’s fixed-dose combination (FDC) ARV contains tenofovir, emtricitabine and efavirenz.

While initially reserved for new patients and pregnant women living with HIV, the FDC is now available to all ARV patients for whom doctors have recommended it.

Lumka Malunga, an HIV counsellor said that there were no complications in switching to the single pill in people already taking the three ARVs, but urged people to wait until a health worker had advised them to do so.

People with resistance to first-line ARVs, severe psychiatric conditions or kidney problems for instance may not be able to take the FDC, according to government.

Nonsikelelo Zulu lost her sister to AIDS-related illnesses four years after she tested too late. With a CD4 count of eight, Zulu’s sister died before she could start treatment.

“Nothing could be done for her,” Zulu told OurHealth. “I decided then that, when I’d gathered enough strength, I would test early and start the necessary process as early as possible.”

A CD4 count is a measure of the immune system’s strength used to determine whether people living with HIV are sick enough to start treatment. In South Africa, people living with HIV can start ARVs when their CD4 counts fall below 350.

Zulu, 27, was recently diagnosed with HIV and qualifies for ARVs.

“I am so grateful to only have to take one pill a day,” she said.

Older patients agree.

Lindeni Mchunu, who has been on treatment since 2006, recently switched to the once daily pill.

“I’m lost for words to express my gratitude,” Mchunu told OurHealth. “It was tough taking six pills every day.”

“Now it is a total bliss,” she added. “I’m sure that the ease of taking one tablet a day will encourage people to test and start their treatment.”