Photo: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
Durban - THE health of thousands of Aids patients has been placed at risk with the shortage of an antiretroviral drug affecting the country.

Health authorities have confirmed the shortage of Darunavir, a third-line drug. Third-line drugs are used when patients have few drug options left to treat their condition.

The Daily News was informed of the matter by an angry Durban resident, who said the shortage existed from last November.

The man, who asked not to be named, said he had waited hours in queues every two weeks, only to be turned away with no medication.

He was later told that this was not only a problem at King Edward VIII hospital, where he is a patient, but across all provincial hospitals.

Stavros Nicolaou, group senior executive of Aspen Group, which supplies the medication to the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department, said there was a near doubling of patients in demand of the drug - from 700 patients to 1300.

He said Aspen did not manufacture Darunavir, but was a local distributor. The manufacturer was Johnson & Johnson.

Nicolaou said it usually took about three months for drugs to make their way from the manufacturer overseas to hospitals in South Africa.

KZN health department spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said there was a problem with the supply of the drug.

“There is only one manufacturer and it is having a supply problem. The manufacturer has been working with facilities to supply limited stock so that all patients get supplies,” she said.

Patrick Mdletshe, national deputy chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, said this was a global problem. “It has been a serious challenge,” he said.

The situation had come to a point where scientists had to come up with alternative treatments for patients. This presented problems because the alternative treatments resulted in side effects and meant some people defaulted on treatment.

Mdletshe said there were many people in hospitals not knowing whether they should be receiving second- or third-line treatments, which meant they did not know how big the problem was.

If this state of affairs continued, there would be more people finding themselves in hospital, he said.

He added that about 180 000 people in South Africa died from HIV/Aids- related diseases in 2017.

He said the mortality rate was similar to those of 2002/2003.

This is not the first time the province has been hit by a shortage of ARVs. Last year the Daily News reported that stocks had to be transferred from other provinces to KZN after a shortage here.

The health department said then the shortage had been caused by legislation in China, which affected the work of manufacturers there.

KZN had also been hit by a shortage of orally-administered polio vaccines, which was caused by an international demand for the drug.

Daily News