SOUTHERN Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) Sub Regional Head and Country Representative in South Africa, Mr Ngoni Chibukire says adherence to lifesaving Antiretroviral drugs should be observed religiously despite the ongoing lockdowns.
By Michael Gwarisa
His calls come at the back of increased reports of cases whereby people living with HIV in most parts of the SADC region have been failing to access their ARVs during the lockdown period.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Mr Chibukire said the health needs of PLHIV have not changed because there is a lockdown and governments and partners should ensure ART clients get their medications without any challenges.
Informed by its Prevention and Mitigation Response to COVID19, SAfAIDS believes that COVID-19 is not only a public health concern; but is also relevant to specific populations at higher risk of morbidity if exposed to the virus; whom SAfAIDS serves.
“This implies standing in solidarity for the needs of people living with HIV, people living with lung-disease such as TB and silicosis; and others who may have compromised immune systems due to other health conditions; and where relevant providing factual, motivational and advocacy messages and statements on the adverse impacts COVID-19 has/could have on well-being of these populations. COVID-19’s impact on sexual and reproductive health cannot be undermined,” said Mr Chibukire.
In South Africa’s Gauteng province close 11 000 people living with HIV failed to access their drugs during the lockdown period.
“With the easing of the lockdown restrictions from June, 1 2020, we hope access to ARVs will be easier since transport services will be available and that PLHIV in informal business will also be able to work and get food for themselves and their families.
“We encourage PLHIV to continue accessing and collecting their medication through the free service provided by the NDPH called chronic medicines dispensing and distribution (CCMDD), that helps people get their government-issued chronic medication more easily outside of a clinic.
“The frontline health workers should support and encourage PLHIV to register on the platform for easy access to medication. This will also cut transport costs during this difficult time as these are accessed within nearby communities,” added Mr Chibukire.
He also said SAfAIDS appreciated the roles the National and Provincial Departments of Health are playing to address the problems of COVID19 with support from international, regional and national organisations.
“SAfAIDS continues to promote access to life saving medication among people living with HIV in South Africa. Transport and other logistical challenges were experienced recently regarding PLHIV failing to access their medication. The distribution of food packs should also target these vulnerable groups though this comes with another problem of stigma and discrimination in communities.
“Using integrated approaches to HIV, TB and COVID19 testing is also very critical so that these triple epidemics are all prioritized. Health workers should try to promote this integrated approach, of course COVID19 comes with its own challenges for health workers.SAfAIDS appreciates the work that the health workers are currently doing in addressing the challenge of COVID19, and we stand in solidarity with them during this difficult period.”