The controversy over the AIDS drug Nevirapine took a new turn today, when the ruling party in South Africa accused the United States of hiding the adverse effects of the drug. Nevirapine is widely used to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
The African National Congress is reacting to recent reports that research done on the drug in Uganda was flawed. The ANC accuses the US government of conspiring with the pharmaceutical industry “to tell lies to promote the sales of Nevirapine in Africa, with absolutely no consideration of the health impact of those lies on the lives of millions of Africans.”
The US National Institutes of Health has responded by saying it stands behind its data showing Nevirapine to be safe and effective. NIH also says it values its collaborative relationship with African countries.
To learn more about the AIDS drug and whether it poses any health risk, English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Jerry Coovadia, a pediatrician and professor of A IDS research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He says Nevirapine is widely used and the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Dr. Coovadia says the side effects of Nevirapine and its ability to create temporary resistance of HIV to drugs have been known for a long time. Professor Coovadia says, “Well, I think there’s something that must be made clear because it seems to me that the controversy is more manufactured rather than being real. First of all, there is no new evidence, which has arisen, which might account for the news item, which appeared in the Associated Press. Whatever we’ve known, we’ve known for some time. And what we’ve known is that Nevirapine is a safe drug. It’s tolerated well in mothers and in infants. And most important, it is highly effective in reducing the transmission of the virus from mothers to children. So that remains unchanged.”
He says the resistance that Nevirapine causes usually fades in a year or two. He says there have been no recorded fatalities among mothers who have taken a single dose, but complications and rare deaths have been reported when the drug is used for chronic or long-term treatment. When Nevirapine is used to prevent mother-to-child transmission, it’s usually given in a single dose.
Professor Coovadia recommends the drug be used in combination with other drugs. He advises people to know the facts about the drug.