PEOPLE Living With HIV (PLHIV) have handed over a petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe in a bid to push government to urgently allocate financial resources to arrest the prevailing drug shortage before the situation goes out of hand.
By Michael Gwarisa
The development comes at the back of indications that the National Aids Council (NAC) is sitting on a cash pile of RTGS$20 million which they are failing to convert to United States (US) dollars needed to procure drugs from source markets.
In an interview on the side-lines of the March which preceded the petition handover, Zimbabwe Aids Network (ZAN) national governing board chair Talent Jumo said there was no political will among government leaders to address the prevailing ARV crisis.
We are gathered here today to petition the Parliament of Zimbabwe around the issue of shortage of Antiretroviral (ARV) Drugs. We are having issues of ARVs stock outs and as a network of PLHIV, we are really concerned because we have also been receiving reports from people out there a network of people on ART, who have gone to different health facilities to get their supplies and when they get there they are being told the supplies are very low
“Some people are getting a week’s supply, others are just being told that there may not be supplies of the particular drug that they are taking. We are very concerned because when someone goes on ARVs, it’s a lifetime commitment, you are supposed to adhere to treatment and if they don’t, they risk developing resistance of medications,” said Jumo.
She added that the issue of stock-outs might cots Zimbabwe so many lives if it is not remedied on time. She however also said government was not showing commitment to meet their side of the bargain to complement the Global Fund (GF) efforts.
“We have commitment from partners such as the Global Fund who are committing large amounts of money for the procurement of ARVs but there is a slight percent that Zimbabwean government should contribute towards the purchase of drugs.
“As we speak, our understanding is that the stock especially for the second line drugs is very low. And when procurement is done, it also takes time to get the ARVs delivered. But we are saying that we have always now that we needed to have certain amount of stock but we haven’t been able to secure the foreign currency but just last week, Zimbabwe managed to pay a certain amount of money to Eskom for an electricity debt.”
She said government lacked political will and its failure to mobilise foreign to procure the lifesaving drugs is a vivid sign that it simply is not willing to address the prevailing crisis.
Zimbabwe Network for People Living with HIV ZNNP+) Acting programs manager, Clarence Mademutsa said more than 350 000 people were being affected by the shortages of second line drugs and this could balloon into an irreversible crisis if not addressed as a matter of urgency.
“We are here to register our concern over a number of issues affecting people living with HIV at the moment. Traditionally, people living with HIV have been receiving up to three months’ supply of ARV drugs but right now we are having a scenario whereby people are receiving a month or less’s supply especially of the second line Abacavir drug.
“So we are saying, we really need to fix those shortages issues, this not the first time, it has happened a number of times. The shortages affect the PLHIV in numerous ways especially psychologically. You begin to be anxious on when you will be able to receive your next supply and you were traditionally being given three months,” said Mademutsa.
He added that the issue of foreign currency shortages was the biggest albatross to the procurement of ARVs and government should expeditiously release funds to ensure the prevailing ARV crisis comes to an end.
Zimbabwe Aids Network Coordinator Mr Taurai Nyandoro said the failure of government to release the USD6 million commitment to the Global Fund would make the nation miss out on the next replenishment.
“We are likely to face stock outs because the failure by government to release the USD6 million for ARVs for 2019. So we have a funding gap of USD6 million for 2019. The global fund is support 710 000 on art and PEPFAR we have around 100 000. So through the National Aids Transition Fund (NATF) we are also supposed to cover 115 000 plus through our trust fund.
“But because our trust fund is in bond notes or RTGS or zim dollars they can’t procure ARVs so hence we have this funding gap of USD6 million and for 2020 its likely to go up to about USD23 million for procuring ARVs. So we are saying parliament needs to play an oversight role to push the ministry of finance to release the USD6 million,” he said
Mildred Mushunje country director for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Africa Trust (SRHRAT) said they also concerned about the prevailing drugs issue.
[pullquote]“Thirty years from now we want people who are AIDS free, they know their status, they can access medication when they need it. The issue of shortages of paediatric ARV and second line treatment is an issue of great concern to us as an organisation because we work with young people. So if they are not able to access their live saving drugs it means their health is compromised.[/pullquote]
“And what we are saying is that we want a healthy young generation that will feed into the national economy 20,30 years down the line. The absence or lack of medication is something we are petitioning government today as we speak, we are petitioning parliamentarians, we are petitioning the ministry of health to look seriously into the issue of ART,” she said.
Meanwhile, Gumisai Bhonzo, a woman living with HIV said the issue was no longer tenable and government needed to prioritiose the ARV issue ensuring people on ART are not given expired ARVs.
“So what brings us here is that from last month after getting expired drugs, an issue was raised among the different support groups we have that they were getting one month’s supply of ARVs, some are getting two weeks supply. Upon interrogating the reason behind stopping the three months’ supply routine to avoid transport fares, they were told the facilities are running out of medication.
“So they were now being given in minute quantities for others not to be left out. We also asked of the recently announced DTG to be rolled out in August, they said it is not available but the shortage of ARVs is real. We even phoned an Edith Opperman facility and was told they were giving one month supply of ARVs and have started giving DTG. They said maybe they would start in August. It’s the same thing at Newlands of getting expired drugs. Other facilities like Parirenyatwa are giving out one month’s supply,” she said.