No ARVs for 300 000 patients – Zimbabwe
By Charlotte Musarurwa
MORE than 300 000 people living with HIV and Aids, representing nearly half the people in need of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) under the Government-run programme, are failing to access drugs owing to inadequate funding, it has emerged.
Figures released by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare last week show that only 350 000 adults and children are receiving ART out of a total of 600 000 people who are in urgent need of the life-prolonging treatment.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dr Gerald Gwinji, said the Government has been battling to clear the backlog on the waiting list since last year because of a shortage of funding.
“The Government continues to mobilise more resources for the procurement of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and diagnostic equipment in order to scale up services and reduce the waiting list,” Dr Gwinji said.
“The main challenge that the Government is facing is limited funding to procure enough ARVs for all people living with HIV and Aids who need treatment.”
“Currently, only about 350 000 adults and children are receiving ART of the total 600 000 people who are in urgent need of HIV treatment.”
Dr Gwinji said the funding gap arose following the introduction of new HIV treatment guidelines in 2010 which saw people with a CD4 count of 350 being required to undergo ART as opposed to the previous guidelines under which only patients with a CD4 count of 200 and below required treatment.
The change in guidelines had resulted in the instant doubling of the number of people in need of ART.
“The new HIV treatment medicines are also more expensive than those in the previous guidelines and hence present a bigger challenge.”
Like most countries with limited resources, Zimbabwe has over the years gradually co-opted people seeking treatment based on their CD4 count.
Dr Gwinji said to compound the situation, some donors had reduced their assistance with most of them citing the global economic crisis.
“Partners usually support the Government within timeframes. Towards the end of such projects the Government is required to put in place an exit strategy in order to ensure that there are no disruptions in service delivery.
“Some support from the donors has dwindled which could be a reflection of the impact of the global economic crisis. This could also partly be attributed to some shift in donor priorities and strategic focus from HIV and Aids to the broader health system issues and service integration,” said Dr Gwinji.
He said despite the challenges, the country’s general health delivery system had improved from last year.
“The decentralisation of HIV care from hospitals to clinics has helped to decongest hospitals while at the same time bringing services closer to where patients live, helping improve geographic access to treatment.