South African Firm Set to Produce HIV Prevention Ring

March 22, 2024
The dapivirine vaginal ring is the first long acting HIV prevention method designed for women that is approved for use in women aged 18 and above | Report Focus News
The dapivirine vaginal ring is the first long acting HIV prevention method designed for women that is approved for use in women aged 18 and above

In a significant stride towards self-reliance in healthcare, a Johannesburg-based company is gearing up to manufacture flexible silicone rings aimed at safeguarding women against HIV transmission. This development not only underscores confidence in an African enterprise to supply such critical solutions at scale and affordable prices but also marks a pivotal step towards the continent’s self-sufficiency in healthcare provision.

This initiative follows the securing of manufacturing rights by a South African company for a vaginal ring designed to prevent HIV infection. The ring, which is user-inserted and replaced on a monthly basis, contains dapivirine, an antiretroviral drug.

Despite studies indicating that the dapivirine vaginal ring offers relatively lower efficacy compared to HIV prevention pills and injections, its unique advantages have prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to advocate for its inclusion in the array of sexual health services accessible to women.

One notable advantage of the ring over HIV prevention pills lies in its discreet usage, empowering women to utilize it without necessitating discussions or negotiations with their partners. This aspect holds particular significance in regions like South Africa, where gender-based violence often compromises women’s autonomy over their bodies and reproductive health.

Prominent African activists emphasized the imperative of granting women greater control over their health choices, advocating for a range of safe and effective options, including the dapivirine ring.

However, despite the WHO’s recommendation, the current price of the ring poses a significant barrier to widespread adoption and deployment in South Africa. The sole dapivirine vaginal ring available in the country’s private sector, named the DapiRing, is produced by a Swedish company under license from the Population Council.

Regrettably, the DapiRing remains inaccessible in South Africa’s public sector due to affordability concerns. The National Essential Medicines List Committee deemed the product unaffordable at its current price, suggesting that a threshold price of R52 per ring would render it feasible for public sector deployment.

The Population Council has chosen South African pharmaceutical company Kiara Health to manufacture and distribute the dapivirine ring across Africa. Dr. Skhumbuzo Ngozwana, CEO of Kiara Health, expressed optimism regarding the company’s ability to offer the ring at a more affordable rate than its Swedish counterpart.

Kiara Health | Report Focus News
Kiara Health

The Population Council’s decision to collaborate with an African-based manufacturing partner signifies a departure from the conventional trend of seeking partnerships in Asia, particularly India. This strategic move aligns with the broader objective of fostering regional self-reliance, a lesson underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kiara Health’s exclusivity in supplying the ring in Africa, coupled with plans for technology transfer and potential collaborations with other manufacturers, underscores the Population Council’s confidence in the company’s capacity to ensure adequate supply at reasonable prices.

As Kiara Health embarks on establishing manufacturing capacity, critical steps including securing financing, procuring equipment, and navigating regulatory approvals lie ahead. Nonetheless, with concerted efforts and strategic partnerships, this initiative holds promise not only for combating HIV but also for bolstering Africa’s resilience in healthcare manufacturing.