China has vowed to gradually phase out the AIDS drug D4T, which the World Health Organization recommended early in 2009 be phased out worldwide because of its long-term and irreversible side effects.
"As the country is further expanding antiretroviral therapy among sufferers under the treatment as prevention strategy now recognized worldwide, the drug regimen will also be optimized," Wu Zunyou, director of the National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, said on Friday.
Since WHO's recommendation in 2009, China has already taken steps to reduce the use of D4T, said Zhao Yan, deputy director of the AIDS treatment and care division of the center.
Several years ago, about half of AIDS patients on the Chinese mainland were using the drug, Zhao said.
She expected that by the end of 2013, China would no longer be using D4T for AIDS treatment on the mainland.
In July, 10 to 15 per cent of new AIDS patients in Wuhan, Hubei province, were prescribed D4T, mostly in rural areas, a source close to the situation said.
Currently, about 26 per cent of the more than 140,000 AIDS patients on antiretroviral therapy, are still receiving D4T on the mainland, statistics from the NCAIDS showed.
To replace the drug, the government has recommended TDF, which is much more expensive, Zhao said.
Earlier this year, Chinese health authorities added TDF into AIDS treatment guidelines and decided to increase the use of TDF-based first-line regimens.
Thomas Cai, director of AIDS Care China, said: "The treatment will help patients live and work normally rather than struggle with serious side effects.
"It's already three years since the WHO recommendation," he said, urging the government to update the suggested drug regimen as soon as possible.
"Treating the side effects costs a lot," he added.
Doctors regularly prescribe D4T to new patients, given that the drug allegedly causes few side effects in the short run, Zhao Yan explained.
However, for long-term use, studies show that it causes serious and irreversible side effects including fat loss, higher plasma lipid levels, pancreatitis, lactic acidosis, and neuropathy.
With China's prevention strategy, more AIDS patients will receive free antiretroviral therapy and an "optimized drug regimen which results in fewer side effects", she said.