HIV patients in India say the shortage is leaving hundreds of thousands without medication

Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India struggle to access treatment due to a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, activists say.

As many as 500,000 people have been unable to get free ARVs from government health centers and hospitals for the past five months, they say, as the country experiences shortages of key drugs.

ARVs that are available in pharmacies and privately run stores can be prohibitive. Some people have been given alternative medicines, but others have stopped taking any medicine at all.

“Does the government realize that at least 500,000, or a third of patients, are affected by this? Some adults are given 11 doses of pediatric medicine to compensate,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+) , an NGO working to improve treatment and facilities for people living with HIV and AIDS. “We only demand an uninterrupted monthly supply. This treatment is our right.”

According to Gangte, who has been protesting for 22 days with about 30 others outside India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) in Delhi, at least 12 other states, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, have face a shortage of ARVs. He said several state governments have asked patients to change their long-standing drug regimens.

“The [Covid-19] The pandemic had already broken our backs. Now this scarcity is pushing us further into penury,” said Gangte.

Kedar Nath, a 30-year-old street vendor who took part in the protest, said he has not taken his ARVs on several occasions in the past two months. He cannot afford the £50 a month it would cost to buy the drugs on the open market.

“I have been taking these medicines for the past 13 years. They have helped me continue with my life despite the virus in my body. But the recent shortage has turned my life upside down as I cannot find the strength to work, nor I have savings to live on,” he said.

According to government figures, 2.35 million people in India are HIV positive. About 1.5 million people are receiving antiretroviral therapy, well below the World Health Organization’s target (90-90-90), under which 90% of people with HIV are diagnosed , 90% receive ARV treatment and 90% are no longer infectious. .

India says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 58,900 AIDS-related deaths were reported in the country.

The government has refuted Gangte’s claims of shortage. The Indian health ministry said it had “reviewed the entire situation and held a series of meetings with the protesters. ARV drugs are being provided [a] duration of less than a month, but at no time was there a shortage of medicines for any PLHIV [patients living with HIV]. There is adequate stock nationally for 95% of PLHIV.”

Naco did not want to comment. However, in a letter seen by the Guardian dated May 30, Naco asked all state AIDS prevention and control societies, which oversee HIV testing and treatment in each state, to switch to other regimes “to overcome the crisis situation as a provisional”. arrangement”.

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