More than 70 countries in the world are currently at risk of running out of essential HIV medication due to the coronavirus pandemic and the multitude of vaccine trials using drug cocktails that involve said medication.
According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), twenty-four countries currently claim to have a “critically low” stock of antiretroviral medicine, more commonly known as ARVs. ARVs are largely used around the world as a therapy to treat HIV, and now a majority of these countries are seeing disruptions in their supply chains as a direct result of the pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated recently that the organization thinks “the findings of this survey are deeply concerning.”
SUDAN – JUNE 18: Sudanese pharmacists, holding banners protesting against medicine shortage
“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.”
In May of this year the WHO and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS estimated that AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa specifically could double due to a six-month disruption of access to ARV medication.
The estimation itself applies only to 2020, however, that doesn’t make it any less staggering. While there may not be a direct cure for HIV/AIDS, ARVs and drug treatments like it have made it so individuals can get to a place where they’re completely undetectable, and therefore, untransmittable, which is remarkable when you think about what the AIDS epidemic looked like in the 1980’s and how bleak the future looked in terms of the virus.
Pharmacy owner Abdulaziz Othman speaks about the acute shortage of medicine at his drugstore in the Sudanese capital Khartoum
The fact that we’ve gotten to a place where HIV and AIDS can practically disappear from an individual’s body goes to show that we should all remain hopeful for a Covid-19 treatment/vaccine, however, it’s important that we continue to provide resources to parts of the world that need HIV/AIDS relief the most.
According to the WHO survey some of these main “disruptions” that are causing so many countries to struggle with their ARV supply includes the closure of air and land transportation, failure for suppliers to deliver the medication as a result of that, and a limit on access to health services due to Covid concerns.
In 2019 alone more than 25 million people received ARV treatment; which is around the average every year for HIV treatment using antiretroviral medication. Now, the WHO is predicting that number will be much smaller because of the pandemic.
This past weekend the WHO also announced that they would be discontinuing a Covid-19 vaccine trial that involved a drug cocktail using lopinavir and ritonavir; two HIV medications. While both drugs are regularly used in ARVs and successfully help treat individuals with HIV, the medications produced “little or no reduction in the morality of Covid-19 patients.”
Drug and vaccine trials are continuing to develop throughout the world, but in the meantime it is imperative that we continue to listen to our healthcare providers and remain indoors as often as possible. If we want to get to a place where Covid-19 becomes completely undetectable and untransmittable, we have to take every necessary precaution.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.