Groups warn of ARV crisis
But province denies shortage
AN ACUTE shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines has hit the Eastern Cape, placing thousands of people who need the drugs to stay alive at risk.
The two medical depots run by the department of health in Mthatha and Port Elizabeth have almost depleted their stock of tenofovir (TDF), according to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
The situation has led to the TAC, the Southern African HIV Clinicians’ Society, the Rural Health Advocacy Project, the Rural Doctors’ Association of Southern Africa, Section 27 and Doctors without Borders to call on the national department to investigate the shortages.
In a joint statement, the groups stated: “Stock shortages have become too commonplace in the health system. The minister of health [Aaron Motsoaledi] must start an inquiry to find out the causes of the shortages and to stop them from recurring.”
Speaking on the situation in the Eastern Cape the TAC’S Mark Heywood said there were shortages all around the province but the O R Tambo region was one of the worst hit in the country.
However, the provincial department of health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said while the shortage was a national problem the Eastern Cape was not in the midst of a crisis.
“We are not against the wall. Clinics and hospitals were overstocked and the department is continuing to buy the drugs,” he said.
In contradiction, Heywood said the TAC was informed by five different organisations there were severe shortages of TDF and abacavir (ABC) in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
There has been an ongoing shortage across the country of ARVS specifically TDF and ABC since March, he said.
“The Mthatha depot requested 70 000 tablets of TDF yet only received 10 000 tablets during their last order,” said Heywood, adding a number of areas in the province had a shortage or a looming shortfall.
According to The Star newspaper, deputy director-general for health regulation and compliance Dr Anban Pillay said on Sunday ARV supplies were running low in the country – including the Eastern Cape – because of changes to drug tenders.
Last year the national Department of Health received ARVS donated by USAID but that came to an end in December.
Kupelo said the drugs were now supplied through a national tender and one of the two successful bidders failed to cope with the demand.
Aspen pharmaceuticals supply 70% of the antiretroviral drugs in South Africa while a local company, Sonke, handles the remaining 30%.
Combined, about 1.7 million people in the country rely on ARVS from the government.
More than 150 000 patients were put on ARV treatment in the Eastern Cape this year. Five years ago the number of patients on treatment was only 15 000.
“The local company failed to deliver but Aspen supplied the department with an additional 18 000 units last week so there is no shortage,” Kupelo said.
The Daily Dispatch contacted three clinics yesterday in the O R Tambo region and two of the medical facilities said stock for both TDF and ABC was running low.
“We only have enough TDF for two or three days and even less supply of ABC,” one of the clinic nurses said.
Kupelo said hospitals and clinics in the Eastern Cape started substituting TDF with ABC last week, which stopped a shortage.
However, Heywood said substituting the drugs was not a solution as it would cause further complications later on.
“Switching treatments is not an acceptable solution as it increases the risk of default, resistance and other health complications,” he said. — email@example.com