Ketchup pouches: The answer to delivering HIV drugs

Science 2013-08-22

Antiretroviral drugs are vital for the management of HIV/AIDS, especially for controlling the transmission of HIV infection from mother to child. In developing countries where women often have to travel very far to obtain healthcare, these drugs are difficult to access. At Duke University, a biomedical engineer researcher and his students have found a solution.


The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that immediately after birth, infants should receive a dose of antiretroviral drugs, and daily for 6-8 weeks until breastfeeding stops. This simple and effective preventative treatment is difficult to distribute in Sub-Saharan Africa as many women give birth in their homes, leaving millions of children at risk of the HIV infection. In addition to this, there have been challenges in administering the doses, as infants cannot swallow tablets and oral syringe doses have a very limited shelf life.


Posed with this problem, Robert Malkin and his team developed a foil, polyethene pouch, much like a fastfood ketchup pouch to store and preserve the treatment for upto several months. This new packaging system uses the same plastic as syringes, however a much smaller amount, increasing the drug to packaging volume ratio and preserving the drug as a liquid.


Clinical trials for this ketchup packet of drugs have proven extremely successful, but a problem in scaling up this technology remains. Although it is much cheaper to produce than a syringe, it is still too expensive for the developing world.


However, recently granted $250,000 from USAID’s Saving Lives at Birth: Grand Challenge for Development and gaining much recognition, Malkin has many hopes for his invention. In addition to preventing HIV transmission, this innovative new model could become a platform for delivering many lifesaving drugs.


Image source: thetummytraveller