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Varichem Requires US$3 Million To Resume ARVs Manufacture

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By Anna Chibamu


DRUG manufacturer, Varichem Pharmaceuticals says financial resource constraints have led to a stop in the production of Anti-retroviral drugs in Zimbabwe.

Giving oral evidence before the HIV/ Aids Thematic Portfolio Committee on why it had shelved ART drug manufacturing, company managing director Alois Muchabaiwa said the drug maker failed to acquire the necessary specialised equipment and accessories using its own financial resources at the height of foreign currency shortages.

Muchabaiwa narrated to MPs how ART drugs are produced and how expensive the process is.

He said the company now needs over US$3 million to resume production.

“Financial resources are needed for bio-equivalence studies, economies of scale were needed as funding would come from Global Fund of which a vigorous process known as pre-qualification had to be obtained from World Health Organisation (WHO),” Muchabaiwa said.

“We also had financial difficulties in sustaining the standards required in the changes that occur such as ARV regulations which are upgraded very often to improve on the efficacy of the drug and reduce their side effect impact.

“Bio-equivalents studies is very expensive, special equipment was needed and for HIV/Aids, a double layer tablet is recommended. The bio-equivalence process required US$800 000.”

He gave the example of Stelanov which used to have a high side effect rate of 40mg but has now been reduced to 30mg.

The company official said although the National Aids Council supported the initiative for research that was necessary to keep up with required standards, resources to have newer molecules could not be obtained from government or donors leading to the company halting on production.

Varichem Pharmaceutical was the first company in Africa to manufacture ARVs.

It was exporting the essential drugs to South Africa, then Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Lagos State (Nigeria).

The first case of HIV/Aids was diagnosed in 1985 in Zimbabwe while government declared the ailment an emergency in 2003.

The outbreak of Covid-19 last year also brought its own challenges to funding HIV/Aids programmes as priority shifted to the current scourge.