Zimbabwe is not facing an acute shortage of antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs as recently reported in the media, Dr Owen Mugurungi, Director of the AIDS and TB Unit at the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MoHCW), has said.
Addressing delegates attending the adolescent sexual and reproductive health conference held in Harare today, Mugurungi dismissed fears that people living with HIV (PLHIV) are switching drug combinations and not taking their drugs as prescribed due to an acute shortage at public health facilities.
Yesterday, state controlled daily newspaper The Herald reported that PLHIV were facing an acute shortage of the life prolonging drugs, forcing them to switch drug combinations.
“We don’t have such acute shortage of drugs as recently reported,” Mugurungi said.
In 2010, the government started implementing a programme to switch all patients from Stavudine-based ARVs to first-line treatment based on Tenofovir (TDF) as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Zimbabwe is hoping to have all patients on TDF by end of 2013.
“TDF is a better-tolerated drug but contrary to media reports, it is not correct to say that those on Stavudine based regimens will develop drug resistance,” said Mugurungi.
However, the MoHCW director did not rule out the possibility that logistical challenges may affect the supply of ARVs. Under Zimbabwe’s decentralised public health system, patients are supposed to collect their drugs from their nearest health centre. Mugurungi said when some patients are transferred from public health facilities they take time before notifying their nearest centre, which may cause logistical problems.
With more than one million PLHIV, the southern African state is one of the countries in the world with the highest HIV burden. According to MoHCW, 435,000 adults and 41,000 children were on ARVs by May 2012.
There were fears that national ARVs stocks could be depleted because of funding shortfalls. The Expanded Support Programme, a pooled donor fund which supported the purchase of ARVs, came to an end in 2011.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis provides the majority of ARVs in Zimbabwe’s public sector. In July, it disbursed funds that should been received in January, which at the time had increased fears of ARVs shortages in the country.