The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that 73 countries are currently in danger of having antiretroviral (ARV) medicines out of stock due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a new WHO survey conducted before the International AIDS Society’s biannual conference, 73 countries are at risk of stock-outs, whilst 24 countries have reported having either a critically low stock of ARVs or else having disruptions in the process of their supply of ARVs.
This survey complies with a modelling exercise that was brought together by WHO and UNAIDS in May, with this forecasting a six-month disruption in the availability of these ARVs, possibly resulting in double the amount of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 alone.
During 2019, around 8.3 million people were taking ARVs in the 24 countries that are now facing supply shortages. This number tallies up to 33% of all of the people that are taking HIV treatment globally.
ARVs are able to control the virus and prevent the transmission of the virus sexually to other people, despite there being no cure for HIV.
WHO listed “A failure of suppliers to deliver ARVs on time and a shut-down of land and air transport services, coupled with limited access to health services within countries as a result of the pandemic,” as the possible causes for the disruptions in the supply.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, claimed that these findings are “deeply concerning”, as one cannot “let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease.”
Data released on July 6 by WHO and UNAIDS claimed that “new HIV infections fell by 39% between 2000 and 2019”, with HIV-related deaths also falling by 51% during the same time period, with ARVs saving around 15 million lives.
The main concern is that progress is starting to stall, with the number of new HIV infections reaching a plateau over the last two years, remaining at 1.7 million, with only a slight reduction in HIV-related deaths, with 690,000 in 2019, 40,000 less than 2018’s 730,000.
WHO has stated that “HIV prevention and testing services are not reaching the groups that need them the most.”
WHO has recently provided a set of guidelines and guidance for countries to safely monitor the essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, including for those people that are currently living or else have been affected by HIV.
This guidance helps countries to decrease the number of disruptions in the access to HIV treatment by using a facility known as “multi-month dispensing”, a system where “medicines are prescribed for longer periods of time”, such as six months.
So far, 129 countries have managed to implement this policy effectively.
Recently, the continuing development of “highly sensitive diagnostic tests” has made it possible for treatment to start in HIV’s earliest stages, yet such tests are not widely available as of yet due to limited resources.