PEOPLE living with HIV (PLHIV) have expressed concerns over failure by government and the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) to consult with them following the expiration of Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
By Michael Gwarisa
The development follows revelations that health institutions continued dispensing ARVs even after they had passed their shelf life. This has not gone down well with PLHIV and on ART who believe the consultation process should have started with them since they are the ones directly affected by any changes in the drugs.
Speaking to HealthTimes, Mrs Gumisai Bonzo said in as much as MCAZ has done tests for the expired medicines, she does not feel safe taking ARVs and has since stopped until her batch arrives from outside the country.
I only discovered I was taking expired ARVs two days ago two days ago in the evening when I was about to take my evening tablet. That is when I discovered that on the expiring date it was saying December 2018 and also on the milligrams section, the pack indicated it was a 600mg yet I had been switched to 400 mg.
“That is when I checked with my PLHIV colleagues and they told me MCAZ in March had communicated that they had tested the ARVs and had discovered that they can continue to be taken without causing any harm for the next six months up to July 30, 2019 and clinics were still dispensing the drugs” said Mrs Bonzo.
She however said taking expired ARVs should be an option and never be an ambush process and at least government and MCAZ should have given PLHV a choice to or not to continue taking the drugs after expirations.
“All along I was taking expired drugs without my knowledge. At least they should have told me so that i would decide whether or not I should continue taking the drug or not. Another thing is that I am not sure if the batch that I am taking (EiSA 17001-A) is the one that was tested and approved by MCAZ, that I do not know.
“When the tests were done, were the PLHIV informed or consulted, noting was said. To me this is not fair, for the past 20 years, i have been taking my medication, I have reached an undetectable viral load, I have been taking my ARVs religiously and I have made a lot of progress. For the past 20 years I have never taken expired ARVs, why is it starting now.”
She added that it’s the first time after 20 years of taking her medication that she has stopped taking ARVs as she no longer feels safe doing so.
“It’s already been two days without taking the drugs, I am waiting for someone who said would buy be the drugs in Zambia so that I can continue with my medication, I don’t want to compromise my health.”
Another HIV activist who requested anonymity said government was not sincere in its communication processes especially when it comes to issues to do with HIV.
“The ministry of health should always be communicating these things to us. That is the job of their Public Relations department to use various media channels to reach out to us. It was heart-breaking to find out through a WhatsApp screenshot that all along I have been taking expired drugs or not.
“The MCAZ and MoHCC should not experiment with us, they should seek our consent first before assuming we are in agreement with them always.”
Meanwhile, MCAZ Projects and Public Relations Officer Mr Shingai Gwatidzo said there was nothing to worry about as they have taken rigorous measures to ensure the safety of ART clients is prioritised in this process.
“In the interest of public health the shelf life (expiry date) of medicines may be extended on chronic lifesaving medicines to continue their treatment without disruption to supply. This is done only for and at the request if the Ministry of Health and Child Care for medicines used in critical conditions that are in short supply.
“In such cases the MCAZ will conduct rigorous laboratory tests as well as a risk-benefit analysis taking into account real time stability data submitted by the manufacturer at the time of registration. Once all conditions are met, shelf life extension is granted for those specific batches that would have undergone analysis. The approval by the MCAZ is an assurance that the medicines is still of good quality, safe and effective,” he said.