File Picture: Nine-year-old Tumelo shows off antiretroviral (ARV) pills before taking his medication at Nkosi's Haven, south of Johannesburg
File Picture: Nine-year-old Tumelo shows off antiretroviral (ARV) pills before taking his medication at Nkosi's Haven, south of Johannesburg

South Africa facing ARV shortages as Covid-19 fight disrupts supply

By Tebogo Monama Time of article published Jul 10, 2020

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South Africa is one of the 73 countries that are at risk of stock shortages for life-saving antiretrovirals for people living with HIV. 

A new survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out that while countries have been fighting Covid-19, they have neglected other health-care areas like HIV/Aids, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infections. 

Twenty-four of the countries surveyed reported having either a critically low stock of ARVs or disruptions in the supply of the life-saving medicines. 

The WHO defines critically low stock of ARVs as stock of three months or less. 

According to Statistics SA, mid-year population estimates released yesterday about 7.8 million people are living with HIV in the country. 

StatsSA also said the proportion of Aids-related deaths had declined by almost half from 30.6% to just 15%. 

The deaths peaked in 2006, decreasing to 515 804 last year.

The gains made in keeping those living with HIV alive might now be reversed due to disruptions in supply. 

According to the WHO, the survey follows a modelling exercise convened by WHO and UNAids in May which forecast that a six-month disruption in access to ARVs could lead to a doubling in Aids-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 alone. 

The WHO said 24 countries reported ARV stocks availability for major first-line drugs of three months or less. 

There is also a potential of ARV second-line drug stock-outs in 27 countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. 

South Africa has also had a disruption in its supply of ARVs, according to the survey. 

Some of the reasons for the shortages in supply include failure of suppliers to deliver on time; courier services shut down due to Covid-19 restrictions and governments having to make upfront payments in order for some supplies to process orders. 

National Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said: “We have on average two months’ supply of our first-line agents and up to four months of the other medicine. 

A proactive approach was implemented with suppliers based on a demand plan. 

Active supplier performance management is being implemented. “There has been disruption in the supply of many medicines, however, due to the proactive management with suppliers, the potential adverse impact of this has been reduced.”

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