The World Health Organization carried out a study that found 73 countries are warning that they run the risk of running out of antiretroviral medications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 24 countries are reported to have meager stocks of ARVs or troubles in securing supplies of these medications.
According to the WHO, who also conducted a modeling exercise, there is a possibility of a six-month disruption in getting ARVs that could result in two times more deaths of those in sub-Saharan Africa in just 2020.
There were an estimated 8.3 million people in 24 countries benefitting from ARVs in 2019, and these countries are now experiencing shortages in the supply. Though HIV has no cure, ARVs are useful in controlling and preventing the spread of HIV to other people through sexual transmission.
The survey demonstrated several reasons for the disruption:
- Suppliers failing to deliver ARVs
- Shutdown of air and land transport services
- Pandemic limiting access to necessary services
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the survey’s findings are troubling. Ghebreyesus said countries and development partners need to work hard to ensure people dependent on the HIV treatment can continue receiving it. He said the current pandemic could not undo everything gained with HIV.
According to research from the WHO and UNAIDS, new infections of HIV dropped nearly 40 percent in 19 years (from 2000 to 2019). There also has been a 51 percent decline in HIV-related deaths, which means about 15 million lives have been saved thanks to antiretroviral therapies.
It appears, however, that worldwide targets are beginning to stall. In the last two years, the yearly number of new HIV infections held steady at 1.7 million, with a minute drop in deaths related to HIV. Although there have been numerous advances in treatment, with over 25 million people getting ARVs in 2019, the 2020 worldwide target is not going to be met.
It’s because the groups that need the services the most are not getting them.
How The WHO Is Getting Involved
Since COVID-19 is having an impact, the WHO has offered some guidance for countries on how they can safely access these essential services during the health crisis. Part of that guidance is including making sure countries don’t limit access to HIV treatments by way of giving out medications for more than one month (up to six months). So far, 129 countries have enacted the policy.
Countries are also working to address the disruptions in supply, working with manufacturers to deal with the logistical challenges.