An HIV drug first approved less than three years ago is to be rolled out in Botswana as a core medicine for newly diagnosed patients, following the largest ever tender secured by GlaxoSmithKline's HIV business in Africa.
ViiV Healthcare, which is majority-owned by GSK, said on Friday it was the first time that Tivicay, or dolutegravir, was being made available as a first-line treatment as part of a national health programme in sub-Saharan Africa.
Campaign groups like Medecins Sans Frontieres have been pushing for the new drug to be offered to people in developing countries since it was first approved in the United States in 2013, as the drug is well tolerated and extremely effective.
No financial details were given of the contract between ViiV and the Ministry of Health in Botswana, and a GSK spokesman declined comment on price. The company has said in the past it would operate tiered pricing, with lower prices for poorer countries.
Botswana is relatively wealthy by African standards, thanks to its diamond mines.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been at the epicentre of the HIV epidemic for decades and nearly three quarters of all people with the AIDS-causing virus live there.
The World Health Organization recommended the use of dolutegravir as alternative first-line HIV treatment late last year and Dominique Limet, ViiV's chief executive, said the Botswana deal would now accelerate access to the drug.
"It will allow people living with HIV in Botswana to have access to dolutegravir as part of a national test and treat initiative, locally referred to as the ‘Treat All’ programme," he said.
The medicine is a so-called integrase inhibitor, which prevents viral DNA from integrating into the genetic material of human immune cells.
Pfizer and Shionogi also hold minority stakes in ViiV.