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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid