HARARE, ZIMBABWE - In October, Zimbabwe became the first African country to approve the use of the injectable HIV prevention drug called cabotegravir.
A 32-year-old Zimbabwean woman, who requested not to be identified, said she received an injection of the HIV prevention drug while she was working in the United States.
She had been taking HIV prevention pills daily for seven years. But after she received the shot in April, and now that Zimbabwe has approved it, she is hoping to take the injection every two months.
'I am excited that there is cabo in Zimbabwe,' she told VOA. 'It is good news. Well, I prefer the injection to the pill because the injection is convenient. You only get a shot after every two months, unlike the pill - you have to take it every day at the same time, and there is a risk of defaulting because there are a lot of things that happen during the day. In life, actually, you might go to a funeral and forget your pills at home. With this injection, you get an injection after every two months, which is six shots per year compared to tablets.'
Zimbabwe is the first African country to approve the use of cabotegravir, or CAB-LA. The United States approved the drug in December 2021, and Australia in August 2022.
In 1999, Zimbabwe introduced a 3 percent AIDS levy to help fund the country's response to HIV and AIDS. Individuals pay 3 percent income tax, and employers and trusts pay 3 percent on profits for the effort.
The World Health Organization has commended Zimbabwe for approving cabotegravir, saying it would pave the way to providing more safe and effective options for HIV prevention.
Farai Masekela, the head of evaluation and registration for the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, or MCAZ, says for now, cabotegravir is only allowed for HIV prevention, not treatment.
'There are going to be other preparations containing cabotegravir, which may be submitted at a later time by the applicants or manufacturers of the product which will be used for treatment,' Masekela explained. 'But the current one, which was approved, is meant only for prevention of HIV, not for treatment.'
Dr. Nyaradzo Mgodi of the University of Zimbabwe Clinical Trials Research Center, who headed trials in nine African countries, said the drug is very effective and is calling for Zimbabwe to roll out cabotegravir as soon as possible.
'Because as African women, we continue getting HIV/AIDS at alarming rates, and one infection is one too many,' Mgodi said. 'When we have something that works, we should make it available to the person or persons who need it.'
Supporters say access to drug will also help Zimbabweans stop relying as much on other countries for drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.