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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid