News / Africa

Zambia Faces Shortage of Anti-AIDS Drugs

An HIV-AIDS patient (R) places her hand on her forehead during a visit by a caregiver at her home in Matero township on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia, April 17, 2012.
An HIV-AIDS patient (R) places her hand on her forehead during a visit by a caregiver at her home in Matero township on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia, April 17, 2012.
The Zambian government is putting in place stringent measures aimed at ensuring a sufficient supply of anti-retroviral drugs. The drugs are essential for those infected with HIV/AIDS, but the medicine currently is in short supply.  AIDS patients have had to travel more than 30 kilometers from their homes - often on foot - to reach clinics, where all too often they are told that the medicine has run out.  

This is the second time this year that the more than 500,000 people living with HIV in Zambia have had to cope with what the Ministry of Health calls rationing of the drugs - a system that some patients here have been contending with for more than a decade.

It is a bitter pill to swallow, especially because obtaining medicine is not as easy as one would think.  A check at some clinics in Lusaka shows that patients must turn up at 4 a.m. to queue services they will only receive hours later.

Zambia’s Ministry of Health admits there is a challenge regarding the stocks of ARVs in the country, which it refers to not as a shortage, but as "rationing."

Chikuta Mbewe is the deputy director of pharmaceutical services.  He said part of the problem was an ongoing switch in Zambia and other countries from one drug, Truvada, to another, Atripla.  Mbewe said complications with the switch have driven down the stocks of both drugs.

"I must hasten to say that there are a lot of planned shipments that have already started arriving in the country.  We think now we are in the normalization curve, so to say.  We hope we can get back to our normal levels,” he said.

Mbewe said the Zambia government wanted as many people as possible to be on [taking] Atripla, since an eight-month supply of the drug was expected to arrive in Zambia before the end of October.

Mbewe said the government’s strategy was to get 95 percent of people living with HIV using Atripla, to simplify the supply chain.

But Felix Mwanza, national director of the Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign, believed the ARV situation in Zambia could have been avoided with proper planning.

“To us, when they say the situation will improve by October, I think justifies what we have been saying," said Mwanza.  "I think there is more than what the naked eye actually sees. Because if the government were saying initially that it will take two weeks for the situation to improve, and they and they move on to say that it will improve in one month's time - and this time they are talking about October - then who is telling the truth? So people should actually be asking questions, [such as] 'Is there something amiss?'"

Whatever the cause, the shortage is real.  Ackim Sakala, a primary school teacher who has been living with HIV for 12 years, is not happy that he has to go to the clinic every month to collect his ARVs, though he acknowledged the situation could be worse.  His clinic is only a kilometer away.

“I can imagine for those that walk long distances, I know what they are passing through. From the experience that I have had  some people have been rationed to two weeks and you can imagine every two weeks they have to get to the clinic to collect their drugs.  For sure there is a shortage," he said.

One of the long-term interventions that Zambia’s Ministry of Health wants to achieve is to attract investors to set up a pharmaceutical plant that will not only manufacture ARVs in the country but other essential drugs as well.

In the meantime, all the people living with HIV have to face the grim reality of what the authorities are referring to as rationing, when the people that use the drugs call it a shortage.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs