A months-long shortage of antiretroviral drugs in India has led to a dozen people living with HIV protesting at a camp in New Delhi, angered by the lack of essential drugs in the so-called “global pharmacy,” which the government denies.
In the camp at the headquarters of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) amid mattresses, protest banners and the incessant noise of fans to beat the heat, Lun Kangde expressed his frustration to Efe about the problems of the Indian health system. Free antiretrovirals.
A paradoxical supply shortage
“We are suffering,” lamented the activist from Delhi’s Positive People Network, which has been protesting for two weeks due to non-availability of drugs like dolutegravir (DTG) recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“There’s money, there’s medicine, there’s NACO staff, somebody’s not doing their job,” he denounced.
Kangte explained that there is no shortage of drugs in the country and it is the largest producer of generic drugs in the world and according to the Indian Brand Image Foundation (IBEF), it supplies more than 80% of the antiretrovirals used worldwide to fight AIDS. .
Available in private pharmacies at market prices, these drugs are provided free of cost to people living with HIV in specialized centers within the framework of a NACO-based scheme that centralizes their procurement and distributes to different states to reduce costs.
But the activist explained that for at least five months, many regions have been suffering from shortages.
“In New Delhi now people get ten days (of medication), which means they have to go three times in a month to get antiretrovirals,” he lamented.
It is normal to receive at least several months, as WHO recommends distributing “priority” drugs for six months or at least three months before the coronavirus pandemic disrupts the response to AIDS and other diseases such as tuberculosis.
The association has received reports of shortages in states like Manipur (Northeast), Kerala (South), as well as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (North).
According to official NACO data, nearly 1.6 million of the 2.4 million people living with HIV in India are on antiretrovirals, and the shortage has become a huge burden for many.
Especially for the underprivileged who cannot afford to miss a day’s work, in the face of the “bureaucratic” process that forces HIV-infected people to go to a specialized center to receive medication.
Hari, who lives in New Delhi, explained to Efe, “It is very difficult to visit a center every ten days as our livelihood is affected and our time is also money.”
His condition has improved since 1998 when he started taking antiretroviral drugs.
But Hari lamented that the system failed to estimate how many people now needed first-, second- and third-line antiretroviral drugs.
Delay in procurement of medicines
Why is India, the world’s pharmacy, suffering from this shortage, which Kangde describes as “artificial”?
There is a problem with the tender for procurement of antiretroviral drugs released by NACO, Kangde said.
When the activists started their protest at the agency’s headquarters in the capital, officials denied it was the issue, but “in the second meeting they admitted the shortage was due to the delay in the tender.”
A situation that angered the protesters. For officers, “It’s about a job and a salary, but it’s also about our lives,” Kangde said.
Keeping the antiretroviral bottle she has been taking for two decades, the activist relies on the NACO circular issued last May. .
The government denies the deficit
Despite complaints from people living with HIV, the Indian government has officially denied the shortage.
Deputy Minister of Health and Family Welfare Bharti Pravin Pawar said in a reply in Parliament last week that “antiviral drug stock is sufficient for 95% of people living with HIV in India”. First and second line.
Pawar admitted that “sometimes there may be this problem at some individual centres, but the medicines are sent immediately from nearby centres”.
From the NACO office, activists confirm that they are ready to camp “whatever it takes” to demand at least one month’s worth of medicine before a medical visit.
David Asta Alares
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