More Than 70 Countries at Risk of Running out of HIV Medication

By Mariliana Fotopoulou Sunday, July 12, 2020

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) survey, more than 70 countries are at risk of running out of HIV medication due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

73 countries have claimed that they are at risk of antiretrovirals (ARV) being out of stock, while 24 countries have claimed that they are “critically low” on ARV medicine, which is used to help with HIV therapy. 

ARV helps control the virus from developing and transmitting to others. In 2019, more than 25 million people were able to receive treatment by using ARV medicine. According to data received and released by the WHO and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), new HIV infections fell by 39% between the year 2000 to 2019. Results also showed that HIV-related deaths fell by 51% during the same time frame and that ARV therapy saved 15 million lives. 

However, the story will not be the same for 2020.

What Is Causing the Stall?

The unpredictable global pandemic has limited land and air transportation, meaning suppliers are unable to deliver the medication specifically to health services in places with limited access. This has caused a disruption, placing the medication on hold and causing fear that AIDS-related deaths could double in areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

To make things worse, the WHO announced that they have had to put the drug trials for lopinavir and ritonavir on halt, two drugs that can help the treatment for HIV. 

Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made a public statement: “Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it. We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease.”

The stalling of medicine can also cause a big problem for pharmaceutical companies that produce the products and help their communities. Halting mass productions could lead to job cuts and a decrease in revenue for the companies. The economy is reaching a dangerous peak in many countries that rely on pharmaceutical companies as a source of national income. It is an unforeseen future that is winding down a risky path.

The Alternatives

To combat this problem and find an alternative solution, the WHO recently created guidance to help countries stay safe and keep good access to health services during the pandemic. This includes people who are living with or are affected by HIV. 

This guidance advises countries on how to limit or eradicate disruptions of HIV medicine access by using a policy that has already been adopted in 129 countries. This policy is called “multi-month dispensing,” which means that medicines can be prescribed for a long duration, such as up to six months.

Communities are also aware of the disruptions caused in order to obtain HIV medicine, which is why they are working in manufacturers to overcome logistics challenges. There are also some flights and supply chains trying their hardest to deliver the necessary treatment for HIV.

The Future

Many viruses such as HIV are deadly to those with weakened immune systems. 8.3 million people benefited from ARV in 2019, a number that feels out of reach now that some countries face supply shortages. There is still no cure for HIV, but ARV therapy treatment can control the virus and prevent transmission to other people.

Once the pandemic is over, there can only be hope that there will be plenty of stock to supply in these countries that are in dire need of this treatment. However, it is now crucial for transportation services to have the flexibility to provide treatment in all places, even those with limited access. People currently affected by or living with those who are affected by HIV can only rely on what their communities provide and the limited supply that their countries have.

About the Author


Headshot of author Mariliana Fotopoulou

Mariliana has an MSC in consumer analytics and business strategy. She has a special interest in fast-moving industries and big data.

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