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Durban - Essential and sometimes live-saving medication, meant to treat chronic health ailments, have run out at several clinics and hospitals around the country.

The shortage was recently highlighted by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), and the Stop Stockouts Project (SSP).

These organisations assist people whose lives are threatened by the chronic shortages of essential medicines and children’s vaccines.

They said they had received numerous calls from the public about the countrywide shortage.

But health authorities remain adamant there is no crisis.

TAC and SSP claim there is a shortage of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), contraceptives, pain medication and medicine administered to babies to prevent them from contracting tuberculosis.

The TAC’s Andrew Mosane said they learnt about the medicine shortages two months ago.

“We verified the complaints before submitting written complaints to the Department of Health. But they kept silent until we decided to go public with the matter,” he said.

Mosane said the essential medicines were life-saving and were required to normalise chronic diseases.

“If you are hypertensive and you do not get the daily dose of your medicine, it could result in a stroke,” he warned.

There is a shortage of certain ARVs, namely lamivudine and abacavir, contraceptives and the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine.

Others include pain medication, like Panado, Brufen and Asprin, as well as Allergex, and medication for mental health and epilepsy.

The acting manager of SSP and the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, Lauren Jankelowitz, said in some areas medicine stocks had run out completely - especially with second and third line ARVs, and some contraceptives.

“If left unresolved, the situation might impact direly on the treatment regimens of patients, with potentially fatal consequences.

“Mpumalanga is the worst hit, followed by North West, Gauteng, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. No reports have been received from the Northern Cape.”

She added that the interruption of ARV treatment could increase the risk of opportunistic infections and drug resistance, which could ultimately lead to death.

Jankelowitz said that the stock outs were a burden on patients, who had to travel distances to reach a health facility.

“Having to repeatedly return to a clinic and spend extra money on transport and child-minding services can lead to debt and a constrained ability to put food on the table or purchase other essentials.”

Department of Health spokesperson, Popo Maja, said the active ingredients for most medicines were produced mainly in India and China.

The shortages were due to the closure of manufacturing sites in both countries, which had impacted on medicine availability globally, he pointed out.

“New legislation in China relating to industrial pollution has resulted in the closure of manufacturing sites for the production of ARVs lamivudine and abacavir.

“This has affected the production of these two ARVs and impacted on medicine availability globally, including South Africa.”

Maja said there were no budgetary problems. He said Aspen, a leading global manufacturer in speciality and branded pharmaceuticals, had experienced a problem with the production of the ARV duranavir.

“However, there are adequate quantities of the product currently in warehouses.

“We anticipate that these production problems are temporary.”

He said the situation was expected to normalise next month.

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