NEW DELHI: The covid-19 pandemic has put at least 73 countries, including India, at risk of running out of stocks of antiretroviral medicines, a World Health Organization (WHO) survey has said. India is a key player in the production of HIV drugs, with eight manufacturers together accounting for more than 80% of generic anti-retroviral medicine production worldwide.
“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, were among the causes cited for the disruptions in the survey,” the report said.
The survey, conducted ahead of the International AIDS Society’s biannual conference, said 24 countries reported having either a critically low stock of ARVs or disruptions in the supply of these life-saving medicines. The survey follows a modelling exercise convened by WHO and UNAIDS in May.
In 2019, an estimated 8.3 million people benefited from ARVs in the 24 countries now experiencing supply shortages, WHO said in its report.
“This represents about one third (33%) of all people taking HIV treatment globally. While there is no cure for HIV, ARVs can control the virus and prevent onward sexual transmission to other people,” it said in a statement.
On June 22, the UNAIDS had said stocks of medication for HIV patients could run out in the next two months because of higher costs linked to lockdowns and covid-19 border closures.
The UNAIDS has said several factors linked to the pandemic risk were pushing up the cost of producing HIV medicine. These costs include increased manufacturing and transport costs, the need to find new sources of key pharmaceutical ingredients and currency fluctuations caused by the economic shock of covid-19, the agency had said.
UNAIDS had warned that a 10–25% increase in these costs could make the final cost of exported antiretroviral medicines from India alone between $100 and $225 million a year more expensive than before.
According to data released on Monday from UNAIDS and WHO, new HIV infections fell by 39% between 2000 and 2019. HIV-related deaths fell by 51% over the same time period, and some 15 million lives were saved through the use of antiretroviral therapy.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the findings of this survey are deeply concerning. “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,” he said.
HIV prevention and testing services are not reaching groups that need them the most. Improved targeting of proven prevention and testing services will be critical to reinvigorate the global response to HIV, the WHO said.
Countries are mitigating the impact of the disruptions by working to maintain flights and supply chains, engaging communities in the delivery of HIV medicines, and working with manufacturers to overcome logistics challenges.