By Edwin Mbulo
The Zambian government has introduced a rationing system for antiretroviral (ARV) drugs causing concern among people living with HIV.
Earlier this month, at a launch of community health screening mobile clinics, the First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba Sata said there was a shortage of ARVs but said that the Minister of Health, Dr Joseph Kasonde, was working to reverse the situation.
According to Dr Kasonde, over US$16 million has been spent on the procurement of essential drugs including ARVs since January 2013.
The Ministry of Health’s spokesperson, Dr Kamoto Mbewe, said people living with HIV and AIDS should not panic over reports that certain ARV drugs are in short supply and that there were enough stocks to cater for everyone on treatment until the next consignment gets into the country.
The Ministry of Health indicated that the government has received 6,500 bottles of Abacavir tablets and is expecting an additional 55,260 bottles as well as 91,000 bottles of Truvada before the end of August, and then a further 400,000 by September.
Dr Mbewe dismissed reports that patients on ARVs were being turned away from Matero and Chingwere clinics in Lusaka due to non availability of the drugs.
“Ministry officers on the ground have found that the drugs are in stock though they are being rationed,” he said. “The Ministry has a supply of Atripla to last for one month, which is the single daily dose of ARVs. Another batch is expected in the country soon.” He added that the single daily ARV pill will eventually be introduced to all patients on treatment in the country.
Lloyd Nkumbula Bwalya is Livingstone’s district coordinator for the Network of Zambian People living with HIV/AIDS (NZP+) and believes the rationing system could lead to people not sticking to their treatment regime.
“We face challenges in that people don’t know what type of service they will get,” he said. “Apart from a poor working culture, there is a shortage of drugs.
This will make some people go for days without treatment as it is difficult to get attended to at the clinics, many of our members have been complaining that they have been queuing for drugs.” Bwalya said that the rationing system has been ongoing for the last four months.
Speaking during the Ministry of Health’s mid-year media briefing in Lusaka recently, the Minister of Health highlighted that the government has so far received enough ARVs that include Abacavir, Truvada and Atripla.
He said: “The Ministry of Health’s priority is to ensure that no person on antiretroviral treatment in the country goes without the necessary life-saving drugs.”
Edwin Mbulo lives in Zambia and is a member of the Key Correspondents programme which focuses on marginalised groups most at risk of HIV and people living with HIV, to report the health and human rights stories that matter to them. The programme is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.