Uganda: Shortage of HIV Drug Looms in Uganda Again

Uganda is facing yet another shortage
of lifesaving HIV drugs, health activists
warned last week.
The shortage has been attributed to
the failure by authorities to import
enough stock of antiretroviral therapy
(ART) medicines last year.

Uganda’s Ministry of Health announced in
December last year that the country
had run out of imported HIV/Aids drugs.
However, in an interview with Reuters,
Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary
Keith Muhakanizi blamed the shortage on
the depreciation of Uganda’s shilling,
which has affected the government’s
ability to finance drug imports.
To mitigate the shortage, the Global
Fund against HIV, Malaria and
Tuberculosis announced it would send an
advance supply of antiretroviral medicine
to Uganda.

Health activists said the stockout will
affect 240,000 patients, who will be
forced to modify treatment plans or
stop taking their medicine altogether.

The activists noted that the frontloading
of Global Fund financing will create a gap
in funding and another drug shortage.
“Right now, you can say that there is no
stockout in this country because of
frontloading by Global Fund. But that will
only last until August or September this
year,” said Joshua Wambogo, the head
of the Uganda Network of Aids Service
Organisations (Unaso).

“After September, we will have another
problem. The number of people in need
of ART is increasing and Global Fund
financing will run out early, awhile the
government of Uganda has not
addressed how it will fix this. If the
government does not increase
allocations of funding towards health,
the upcoming shortage will be massive,”
added Unaso
.
“President Yoweri Museveni’s
administration has largely failed to
address the systemic failures in the
delivery of healthcare in the country,”
said Asia Russell, the executive director
of Health GAP, an advocacy group.
UNAids classifies Uganda as a high HIV
burden country where the number of
persons living with HIV continues to grow.
Currently, there are 1.5 million Ugandans,
or 4 per cent of the population, living
with the disease. About 820,000 people
receive ARVs.

“The issue of essential life-saving health
services such as access to ART,
consistently ranks as priority number
one for Ugandan voters,” said Ms
Russell. “In the mind of voters, this is the
centre of gravity and neither
candidates not the incumbent are
treating it as such.”

Health activists in Uganda, including Ms
Russell, have drawn a correlation
between runaway election spending and
the government’s inability to allocate
funds to ensure continuous drug
supplies.

Ms Russell noted that procurement of
some ART medicines is done in local
currency, meaning depreciation of the
shilling should not have altered access to
medicines bought from Ugandan-based
manufacturer Cipla Quality Chemicals.
Ms Russell added that a sharp rise in
inflation following Uganda’s 2011
presidential election did not lead to a
stock out.

The government has also argued that
new World Health Organisation guidelines,
stating that drug treatment for HIV
should start earlier, contributed to a
sudden rise in the number of patients in
need of ART, a claim Ms Russell has
dismissed.

“If you look at the trend for people
enrolled in ART programmes, month to
month, there is no jump in the number of
patients that the Ministry of Health is
responsible for,” said Ms Russell, adding
that support from foreign donors
including the United States has
increased.

Unaso further noted that at the very
least, errors in planning and monitoring
of stock levels were made, mistakes that
will continue to have effects on patients
under ART programmes.

ART treatment has been proven to
reduce the likelihood of passing on of
the virus by nearly 96 per cent.
A recent study by Swiss researchers
shows that interruption of treatment
was a major driver of new infections,
accounting for up to 14 per cent of new
HIV cases.

“It is simple logic that if you have been
receiving treatment, the treatment is
well-known to suppress the activeness
of the virus.

When I don’t take that medicine, the
virus is going to be active in me. The
disease will progress. So many people will
become more sick, many people will die,”
said Mr Wambogo.

By Lisa Laventure

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