There was a lot of celebration and cheering among Zimbabweans when news broke out that the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) had approved the relatively new long-acting HIV prevention drug cabotegravir otherwise known as CAB-LA. While more drugs are always welcome the better majority of Zimbabweans would be best advised to stick with traditional methods such as condoms because getting CAB-LA treatment will set you back a whopping US$360 or more per year.

CAB-LA was developed by ViiV Healthcare a well-known for developing HIV medicines. It is a type of drug known as PrEP or Pre-exposure. This means that the drug will help prevent you from contracting HIV/AIDS if you take it as prescribed. While CAB-LA is a new drug it has shown great promise in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in both men and women. Most importantly to those in the western world, the drug is as effective in straight men and women as well as LGBTQ community members.

One reason why everyone is excited about CAB-LA is not that it is a PrEP drug. There are already a number of equally effective drugs on the market and available to Zimbabweans. CAB-LA has a superpower up its sleeve- it is long-acting. The drug can be injected and has an effective period of 8-12 weeks compared to other drugs which are more short-acting. Add to that the fact that the drug has an HIV prevention efficacy rate of 99% (close to condoms) and you have a winner. That is until you consider the price.

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It is not yet clear at what price the drug will retail in Zimbabwe but in other countries, the drug has an initial price of between US$240 and US$360 price per year of treatment. This is despite the fact that the total cost of making the drug required for this duration is between US$20 to US$40. Perhaps Viiv is trying to recoup whatever they spent on Research and Development. It is also entirely possible that the drug will sell at lower prices in Zimbabwe. Other anti-retroviral drugs already sell for very low prices in Sub-Saharan Africa thanks to the efforts of various organisations including pharmaceutical companies who foot the bulk of the bill. It is the reason why life expectancy has doubled in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade and a half to the current average of 64 years.