More than 70 countries are at risk of running out of antiretroviral medicines, which are largely used to treat HIV, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey by the World Health Organisation shows. The survey was conducted ahead of the International AIDS Society’s biannual conference.
Twenty-four countries reported having either a critically low stock of antiretroviral medicine or disruptions in the supplies.
“The findings of this survey are deeply concerning,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it. We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease.”
In May, the WHO and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS estimated that AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double due to a six-month disruption of access to antiretroviral medication. That estimate applied only through 2020. While there’s no cure for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, antiretroviral medication is proven to control the virus and prevent infection to others.
The closure of land and air transport services, failure of suppliers to deliver the medicine on time and limited access to health services within countries due to the pandemic were among the causes cited for the disruptions in the WHO survey.
More than 25 million received the treatment in 2019, WHO said, adding that it is expecting to miss the target in 2020.
New HIV infections fell by 39% between 2000 and 2019 while HIV-related deaths fell by 51% over the same time period, and some 15 million lives were saved through the use of antiretroviral therapy, WHO said.
129 countries adopt multi-month dispensing
In a recently developed guidance for countries on how to safely maintain access to essential health services during the pandemic, including for all people living with or affected by HIV, WHO encouraged countries to adopt “multi-month dispensing”, a policy whereby medicines are prescribed for longer periods of time – up to six months.
To date, 129 have adopted this policy aimed at limiting disruptions brought about by the pandemic.
Countries are also mitigating the impact of the disruptions by working to maintain flights and supply chains, engaging communities in the delivery of HIV medicines, and working with manufacturers to overcome logistics challenges.