African Press International (API)

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Uganda: Running out of Aids drugs

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2008

Kampala (Uganda) – There is a shortage of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), Aids activists and health ministry officials have said.

The National coordinator of Positive Mens Union, Richard Sserunkuuma, told Saturday Vision they started feeling the shortage mid last year.

Consequently, the National Forum of People Living with HIV/Aids Networks of Uganda petitioned the Ministry of Health.

There were reports coming out on the shortage of ARVs in districts like Katakwi, Pallisa, Rakai, Soroti, Hoima and Luwero. A number of people living with HIV/AIDS were reporting complete stocks out or breaks of one week to months without medication, yet drugs were expiring in the stores, said Sserunkuuma.

While downplaying the shortage, the Director General of Health Services, Dr. Sam Zaramba, confirmed the stocks available were below the usual. Normally we have a buffer stock of six months but currently we have a stock to last us less than three months, he said.

Dr. Elizabeth Namagala, a coordinator in the ART division at the health ministry, said they would carry out re-distribution from centres that had over-stocked some ARVs to those experiencing shortages. She said whereas Combivir, the backbone of most ARV combinations in Uganda is still in stock, all others were in short supply at some sites. Another doctor explained that there are patients on whom Combivir either doesnt work, or they suffer serious side effects, so they need alternatives.

Namagala, however, said the ministry had the capacity to avert a crisis. She pointed out that Government had placed an order for more ARVs, using part of the sh60b announced in the budget speech. There is no cause for alarm and the shortage will not last for long, she said.

Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, the pioneer of antiretroviral treatment in Uganda, explained that the shortage is a global problem. The current shortage has nothing to do with the ministry of health. Some of the factories delivering first line drugs have failed to deliver but they have assured us that they are addressing the problem, Mugyenyi noted.

Additionally, the demand for ARVs has been rising in Uganda, creating pressure on limited resources. The number of people in immediate need of the drugs had risen from about 225,000 in 2006 to 312,000 today, according to health ministry estimates. On average, 1,500 patients are enrolled on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) every month.

An estimated 1.1 million Ugandans are living with the virus that causes AIDS. Currently, 130,000 patients, including 10,000 children, are receiving ARVs. This is about 42% of the total number of people in urgent need of ARVs. This percentage is one of the highest in Africa.

The current shortage comes at a time when Uganda has started producing ARVs. Quality Chemical Industries, a pharmaceutical company based in the Luzira Industrial Area, started full scale production of ARVs last month.

Participants at the second national HIV/AIDS paediatric conference that ended yesterday noted that of the 50,000 children in need of immediate life-saving HIV treatment, only 10,000 are accessing this essential intervention.

Later, a drug access initiative and international market forces led to steady price declines until Government announced it would provide the drug to all who need it. Currently the lowest cost options are between sh20,000 and sh30,000 per month.

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API/Source.The New Vision (Uganda), by Anthony Bugembe and Elvis Basudde

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