A major health crisis is unfolding in at least six provinces, where ARVs are running in short supply. The life-prolonging drugs that are in short supply include tenofovir (TDF) and abacavir (ABC).
The situation is so dire that in one province patients are being forced to switch medication because their regular ARVs are unavailable.
A Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) researcher from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, Thandeka Vinjwa, said yesterday: “Several hospitals and clinics have run out of TDF and ABC, and patients are now getting d4t.”
“In other areas they get a one-week and a two-week supply of medication. Those in the rural areas are the worst hit as they have to walk long distances to reach the clinics,” said Vinjwa.
About 1.7 million people in South Africa are on the state’s ARV treatment programme.
The drug shortage has also affected Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Mpumalanga.
TAC spokesperson Sibongile Nkosi said in Limpopo, patients have been experiencing shortages of tenofovir (TDF).
Before the shortage of drugs, patients could collect medication for up to three months in one visit, something which suited those who live far away from health centres.
“After experiencing the shortages, they (department of health) came up with a strategy of supplying patients with medication for two weeks only,” said Nkosi.
However, this arrangement is proving costly for those who have to pay for transport to get to state health facilities.
“The government needs to solve the problem before it gets worse,” Nkosi said.
In Gauteng a woman who is on ARVs with her child said she now had to visit her clinic every two weeks.
“We only get 15 pills for two weeks because of the shortages. But we are still lucky as some patients are now being asked to collect their medication the following day.
“We are being told that there’s not enough TDF,” she said.
Ekurhuleni District TAC research coordinator Luckyboy Mkhondwane, said: “The situation is so bad that people are being given a week’s supply in some health facilities in Gauteng. They have to share their drugs.”
Fingers have been pointed at Aspen Pharmacare and Sonke, the companies contracted to supply ARV’s to health centres countrywide.
Both companies are being accused of failing to meet the growing demand for ARVs.
Shauneen Beukes, who spoke on behalf of Aspen Pharmacare, said: “Aspen has a corporate policy that we do not discuss our business relations through the media.” Sonke could not be reached by last night.
Asked to comment on the matter, department of health spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said: “This matter is currently receiving high-level attention. Discussions have taken place among all the concerned parties and the way forward has been charted.”
He could not be drawn to comment further, except to say: “A media statement is due to be released, hopefully tomorrow, by the minister (of health) on what exactly is going to happen moving forward. I wouldn’t want to be ahead of the Minister in this regard.”