Bulawayo’s Stocks On Life Saving ARVs Dwindle

Many HIV patients in Bulawayo use the second line of antiretroviral drugs, COVID-19 restrictions may have affected distribution leading to shortages— for most patients the situation is not good for their mental health.

Reports on concerns around mental health and COVID-19 induced stress are awash in the media, for patients relying on medication for life – the situation could be dire.

“It’s even worse (stress) for us chronic patients,” Agrippa Mukanhaire, who is living with HIV, says as he bemoans the shortage of his second-line antiretroviral (ARV) regimen when he is also facing anxiety over COVID-19 infection.

“It is depressing; this is affecting my mental health and well-being.”

People like Mukanhaire, who are living with HIV and relying on this regimen, a second line treatment known as Atazanavir/ ritonavir, are now being forced to default or use Dolutegravir (DTG), a first-line drug.

Treatment in Zimbabwe has three lines.

The first line is taken by patients who seek treatment early while the second is expensive and given to people who are resistant to the first with the third line being the most expensive with severe side effects and given to patients with multi-drug resistance.

Under normal circumstances, HIV patients are given a 3 to 6 months supply of their medication, a recommended practice during the COVID-19 lockdown where people are advised to stay at home and practice social distancing.

Not any more, Dumisani Nkomo, who has been living with HIV for years reveals.

“We are now getting only a month’s supply,” says Nkomo, who is also an HIV/Aids activist and president of Adventist International HIV and Aids Society.

“A number (of patients) are developing stress and besides the physical effects, this is affecting our mental health. This matter must be treated with urgency,” says Dumisani Nkomo, president of Adventist International HIV and Aids Society.

The publication could not ascertain the number of recipients of the drugs registered at council clinics. However, council says most patients who collected ARV medication from Khami clinic are on a second line ARV treatment.

According to the Bulawayo City Council (BCC), the shortage of the second line ARV regimen results from disruptions to global production and delayed shipments owing to COVID-19 lockdowns.

In June 2020, UNAIDS warned ARV medication was likely to run out because of ‘higher costs linked to lockdowns and COVID-19 border closures’ as it called on countries and manufacturers to take pre-emptive action.

“This medication is (second-line regimen) in short supply. The supplying countries were affected by COVID-19 lockdown regulations,” BCC health director Edwin Sibanda says.

Bulawayo deputy mayor Mlandu Ncube has however warned against panic saying ‘everything is under control.’

“We have got our partners who normally support and supply us and help us supply residents with ARVs and what we can assure residents is that we know these are lifesaving medications so we cannot play around with that and we cannot allow ourselves to go out of stock.”

“We say to residents, please don’t panic, anytime you feel you need to stock-up, go to your nearest clinic to receive your medication,” Ncube adds.

Nkomo has, however, urged council to quickly address the ARV drug shortages amidst fears that patients may suffer drug resistance due to lack of adherence to prescribed medication.

The shortage of ARV medication comes when there has been an emphasis by the ministry of Health and Child Care to meet the United Nations 90-90-90 target.

The UNAIDS 90-90-90 target calls on countries to ensure that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection receive sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

“We plead with authorities to urgently address this risk, outdoing the strides made so far against fighting HIV,” Nkomo adds.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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