COVID-19 Pandemic Threatens HIV Drug Supplies
There is mounting concern in many countries, and emerging acutely in Asia, about a growing shortage of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs as a result of supply chain disruptions and stock-outs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts fear that further disruptions could halt and even reverse the hard-won progress on HIV/AIDS that has been achieved in many low- and middle-income countries.
To maintain viral suppression and stay healthy, people living with HIV typically must take daily doses of a three-drug cocktail. Skipping or reducing doses can adversely affect health and lead to drug resistance. Already there are reports of stock-outs and of doctors resorting to dual instead of the normal triple combination therapy in Indonesia.
A coalition of 34 treatment advocacy and civil society groups across 10 countries in the region have voiced their concerns in a letter addressed to the South East Asia and Western Pacific Regional Offices of the World Health Organization. amfAR’s TREAT Asia program and the MSF Access Campaign, South Asia, jointly led this effort, with Giten Khwairakpam, TREAT Asia’s program manager for community and policy, as the group’s point person.
“The WHO has a clear leadership role and is a key partner in ensuring that people living with HIV continue to have access to lifesaving treatment.”
The letter urges the Regional Offices to take steps to ensure the uninterrupted availability of antiretroviral drugs. This would include asking exporting countries such as India and China to allow exemptions for these medicines to be shipped around the world on cargo flights for humanitarian purposes during the current COVID-19-related transportation lockdowns. It also requests that WHO encourage Ministries of Health to work with civil society and community organizations to implement service delivery measures such as multi-month and community-based dispensing of drugs.
“The WHO has a clear leadership role and is a key partner in ensuring that people living with HIV continue to have access to lifesaving treatment,” said Mr. Khwairakpam. “Our hope is that the COVID-19 pandemic subsides soon enough to allow medicine supply chains to get back to normal. We need to increase our efforts during this time to maintain and expand access to treatment in the Asia-Pacific.”