Zim hit by ARVs shortage

HARARE - One million people living with HIV and Aids are facing serious health risks due to an acute shortage of life-saving anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs, a result of foreign currency shortages.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) along with the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV (ZNPP+) and the Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme (DOMCC) raised grave concern over the slow pace at which government is addressing the persistent shortages of the life-prolonging ARVs drugs.

The situation has adversely affected at least 35 000 people who are on the second line drug regimen, which is for those who would have failed to respond to the general anti-retroviral treatment (Art), otherwise known as the first line drug regimen.

The second-line Art regimen is usually safe and effective for patients experiencing virological failure of the first line.

Now there are mounting fears that shortages of ARVs could lead those on the second line into the third and more dangerous regime due to forced defaults.

“These shortages put the health and welfare of over one million people living with HIV at high risk, we call upon the government of Zimbabwe to urgently prioritise the allocation of foreign currency towards procurement of ARVs,” ZNPP+ national chairperson Sebastian Chinhaire told a news conference in Harare.

“We appeal to both the ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the ministry of Health and Child Care to avail the desperately-needed foreign currency to ensure an uninterrupted supply of the lifesaving drugs considering that people on the second line are already at risk,” he said.

Currently, HIV patients are receiving an average of two weeks’ supply due to the drug shortage instead of the usual three months’ supply.

Chinhaire also said government should prioritise capacitating local pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce ARVs saying this would make availability of the drugs easier.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers have recently been struggling to import raw materials required to produce drugs due to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s little foreign currency allocations to the critical sector.

Chinhaire said government should speed up localisation of the manufacture of ARV drugs.

“This will assist in preventing interruptions caused by time lags and potentially bring down the prices of ARV drugs. This is of significant importance considering that this year, we celebrate the enrolment of one million people onto the Art therapy programme,” said Chinhaire.

However, permanent secretary in the ministry of Health and Child Care, Gerald Gwinji, assured stakeholders that government has now managed to access foreign currency to acquire the drugs with a huge consignment already on its way.

“We are okay for the first line and we have moved forward shipments in order to avert any stock outs. In terms of the second line, we are stocked up to 13 months,” he said.

Further enquiries by the Daily News indicated that on the pharmaceutical retail market, where some patients prefer to obtain their drugs instead of going to public health institutions, some common Art drugs such as Terolam E, have disappeared.

The drug shortages could see Zimbabwe fail to achieve the ambitious UNAids’ 90-90-90 goal by 2020 which is an ambitious target aimed at ensuring that 90 percent of people living with HIV are diagnosed, of which at least 90 percent are to be placed on antiretroviral treatment by 2020 while 90 percent of people in treatment would have fully suppressed viral load by 2020.

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