Covid-19: millions are at risk over the shortage of HIV drugs

The COVID-19 pandemic could affect the availability and distribution of antiretroviral medicines to millions of patients around the world, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS said on Monday.

According to the UNAIDS, a new study has revealed the potential impacts COVID-19 pandemic could have in low- and middle-income countries around the world on supplies of the generic antiretroviral medicines used to treat HIV.

The UNAIDS said its survey discovered that the lockdowns and border closures imposed to stop COVID-19 are impacting both the production of medicines and their distribution, potentially leading to increases in their cost and supply issues, including stock-outs over the next two months.

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima in a press release, said, “It is vital that countries urgently make plans now to mitigate the possibility and impacts of higher costs and reduced availability of antiretroviral medicines.

“I call on countries and buyers of HIV medicines to act swiftly to ensure that everyone who is currently on treatment continues to be on it, saving lives and stopping new HIV infections.”

“Since 24.5 million people were on antiretroviral therapy at the end of June 2019, millions of people could be at risk of harm—both to themselves and others owing to an increased risk of HIV transmission—if they cannot continue to access their treatment,” the press release read in part.

UNAIDS says recent modelling estimates that a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa alone could lead to 500,000 additional AIDS-related deaths.

“The production of antiretroviral medicines has been affected by several factors. Air and sea transport is being severely curtailed, hampering the distribution of the raw materials and other products, such as packaging material, that pharmaceutical companies need to manufacture the medicines.

“Physical distancing and lockdowns are also restricting the levels of human resources available in manufacturing facilities. The combined result of shortages of materials and workforces could lead to supply issues and pressure on prices in the coming months, with some of the regimens for first-line treatment and those for children projected to be the severest hit,” it added.

According to the agency, an array of circumstances are conspiring to add pressure on the overall cost of finished antiretroviral medicines.

“Increased overhead and transport costs, the need for alternative sourcing of key starting materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients and currency fluctuations caused by the forecasted economic shock are combining to push up the cost of some antiretroviral regimens.

“It has been estimated that a 10–25 per cent increase in these could result in an annual increase in the final cost of exported antiretroviral medicines from India alone of between US$ 100 million and US$ 225 million.

“Considering that in 2018 there was an HIV financing shortfall of more than US$ 7 billion, the world cannot afford an added burden on investments in the AIDS response.”
UNAIDS, however, said it is working with its partners to mitigate the impact of the projected shortage.

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