Blantyre- Malawi (PANA) -- The Malawi government has approved that the AIDS drug Nevirapine should be administered free of charge to HIV-positive pregnant women in the country.
Wesley Sangala, Chief Technical Advisor in the Ministry of Health, told PANA the government in April signed the agreement with a German pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, which will be supplying Nevirapine free of charge.
The cabinet has just approved the agreement, he added.
Sangala, who refused to disclose other aspects of the agreement, said HIV-positive pregnant women will be put on the Nevirapine dosage during both ante- and post-natal periods.
"This will be free," he said.
Sangala said administration of the drug would begin in November and the agreement will run for five years.
He said a two-year trial period of the drug showed a significant drop in mother-to-child transmission.
The study showed that women on the drug had only a 30 percent risk of transmitting the disease to their babies while the risk for the rest was almost at 100 percent, he said.
About 10 percent of pregnant women in the rural areas tested HIV-positive at ante-natal clinics while 30 percent of urban women are found to be carrying the virus that leads to AIDS, according to Sangala.
Available statistics from the National AIDS Control Programme showed that at least 40,000 under-five children have HIV.
Sangala said while the mothers could not be rid of HIV with Nevirapine, the drug reduced viral load - the amount of the virus in their system - thereby increasing chances of a longer life.
Although government introduced a subsidised AIDS drug cocktail scheme in selected hospitals last year, many Malawians living with HIV still find them very expensive.
For instance, a three-drug cocktail costs 10,000 kwacha (about 132 US dollars) in government hospitals and 30,000 (about 395 US dollars) in private clinics.
According to the Ministry of Health, only 30 patients are buying the cocktails at Blantyre's main hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Central, while only 50 are buying the drugs in the capital, Lilongwe.
And one patient in the northern city of Mzuzu is buying the drugs.
Sangala said the government was currently discussing with a number of pharmaceutical companies to consider lowering AIDS drugs further.