South Africa : ARV Drug Myth

Media in South Africa recently erupted into a frenzy of coverage of an allegedly new illegal drug, ‘whoonga’, said to contain life-prolonging antiretrovirals (ARVs), but experts say the drug is actually an old foe, heroin, and does not include ARVs.

The South African AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), has expressed concern that misreporting in the media may fuel a craze of its own and put HIV patients and ARV drug stocks in jeopardy.

Traditionally, the term ‘whoonga’ in South Africa referred to low grade heroin, which was often mixed with substances like rat poison and detergent to increase its volume prior to sale. Recent media reports have alleged that ‘whoonga’ now contains crushed ARVs and that the use of the combination of heroin and HIV treatment is widespread among the country’s townships, particularly those surrounding the port city of Durban in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province.

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