ARVs run out in Uganda

Kelvin Nsangi | 30 Jun 2006
AND Network
Aids activists say unless something is done urgently, numerous lives will be endangered. The Deputy Executive Director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV (NGEN+), Mr Tonny Takenzire, told Daily Monitor on Wednesday that some treatment centres are no longer enlisting any more people living with HIV on their admission programme. He said supply to Bethlehem Medical Centre, (the Workers Medical Centre) was fast dwindling. Soon referral hospitals would be the only centres giving free ARVS, he added.

"Even national referral hospitals would be running out of antiretroviral drugs because the support from the Global Fund has been delayed by procurement," he said.

The Programme Coordinator for Ernst & Young, the caretaker managers of the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Dr Sam Okuonzi confirmed the looming scarcity of the drugs, when contacted by telephone yesterday. "I have heard of the scare. It is true some drugs have run low and will be running low in all distribution outlets," he said by telephone yesterday.

The Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria supports almost half of people on antiretroviral treatment in Uganda. The Global Fund is the major financer for the purchase of first-line ARV regimen (zidovudine and lamivudine), which are all reportedly in short supply.

Sources said the looming scarcity was top on the agenda at a Steering Committee meeting for the Global Fund held on Saturday. At least 70 000 Ugandans had access to ARVs by end of 2005, surpassing the target of 60 000 set by UNAIDS. Uganda was one of only 18 countries that were able to achieve the target globally. The vast majority of HIV positive Ugandans cannot afford the high cost of the drugs, so the government together with donors provide them free of charge.

The cheapest drug goes for Shs30,000 ( $17). Once a person has started using ARVs, missing the drugs for a day could be disastrous as it could trigger drug resistance. Access to treatment is a key part of the international and national strategies to combat HIV/Aids since ARVs could increase the length and quality of life, and the productivity of the patients.

A top HIV/Aids activist, Ms Beatrice Were, from Action Aid International, described the situation as "serious." "The batch of ARVs that people are surviving on at the moment is what was purchased before the suspension of the Global Fund (in August last year). And, ever since the ban was lifted (in November) there has not been any procurement," she said.

An official at Bethlehem Medical Centre, who declined to be named, said the facility was not enlisting new patients for Antiretroviral treatment (ART).

The official said the medical centre had reached "full patient capacity." However, Okuonzi said arrangements were underway to procure more drugs but that the process was being delayed by the fact that there was only one supplier. Sources said the sloppiness in the procurement had combined with the typical Uganda habit of overspending on administrative costs to reduce the emergency supply expected in August from $9 million to a paltry $1 million worth of drugs.

The eight million has over the months been consumed in administrative expenses. The Programme Manager of the Aids Control Programme in the Ministry of Health, Dr Elisabeth Madraa, could not be reached for a comment.