The United Nations Development Programme has resorted to airlifting 15 054 packs of anti-retroviral drugs in an effort to ease the drug shortages being experienced throughout the country.This is a desperate measure taken after Government came hard on the UN body for failure to make deliveries on agreed time frames, resulting in major stock outs throughout the country.
In an e-mail directed to Government officials and other stakeholders recently, UNDP’s project co-ordinator Ms Iolanda Fortes said the first consignment of 5 294 packs of abacavir, which were planned for sea freight, will arrive in Harare on Monday (September 16) by air.
This consignment was scheduled to arrive sometime next month. Another consignment of 9 760 packs of abacavir, which was also earmarked for sea freight, is expected to arrive on September 23, again by air.
Ms Fortes earlier attributed the drug shortages to changes in treatment guidelines causing some regimens to be consumed more than the others. “The change in standard treatment guidelines has caused more tenofovir + lamivudine to be consumed.
“This has a domino effect because for second line regimen, more and more abacavir + didanosine will be required to replace the tenofovir + lamivudine that is now used as preferred first line,” she wrote.
Ms Fortes said demand for abacavir has also increased as more and more patients are developing resistance to first line drugs.
She further claimed that returnees from the diaspora with prescription for second line drugs had also contributed to the high demand for the drugs hence the shortages.
UNDP procures ARVs on behalf of Zimbabwe with funding availed by the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Contacted for comment yesterday, officials from UNDP referred all questions to Secretary for Health and Child Care Dr Gerald Gwinji, who said he would issue a joint statement soon.
People living with HIV have also expressed concern with the continual shortages of life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs saying the responsible authorities were playing with people’s lives.
Acting executive director for the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) Mr Spencer Gundu said their findings revealed shortages throughout the country with beneficiaries citing shortages of both first and second line drugs.
He said when available, people were being given supplies enough for a maximum of seven days. Previously, people would get supplies to last two months.
“In Chitungwiza (at Seke North and South) it was evident that HIV-positive people who are on the Tenolum E and Cotrimoxazol medicines were not accessing them. When available they were only getting 3-day or 7-day supplies,” Mr Gundu said.
Abacavir — a second line drug — is also in short supply throughout the country with people being asked to buy from private pharmacies.
“Initially we thought the shortages were as a result of administrative bungling at Natpharm but further enquiries showed that it was beyond them.”
Mr Gundu said the situation might complicate treatment of HIV as people are defaulting treatments due to inconsistent supplies resulting to resistance.
He said defaulters on second line treatment might end up placed on third line treatment due to resistance.
“The country cannot afford third line treatment because it is expensive and we should not let that happen, at least for now,” he said. About 400 000 people are accessing ARVs from Zimbabwe’s public health institutions.