The World Health Organisation has warned that 73 countries are running low on antiretroviral medicines (ARVs), and attributed the shortages to Covid-19 disruptions.
Indeed, disruptions wrought by the coronavirus pandemic are gargantuan, but do not provide a basis for abandoning other equally important projects, like providing antiretroviral drugs to HIV patients.
The US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) drastically cut its HIV funding programmes in Kenya in 2017, a move that left HIV patients vulnerable. This happened at a time that a new drug-resistant strain of the virus and a resurgence in HIV infections were reported.
Admittedly, Kenya has made progress in the management of HIV infections. For instance, between 2010 and 2017, HIV cases dropped from 77,200 to 52,800, representing an impressive 32 per cent reduction. Commendably, the government introduced free ARVs to lessen the cost burden for many of the indigent patients. However, under the prevailing circumstances, all gains made in the fight against HIV are threatened by Covid-19 disruptions.
Deaths from HIV complications due to lack of drugs must be avoided as should the risk of mother-to-child infections for the same reason.
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HIV, TB and other chronic diseases have annual budgets set aside for the procurement of requisite life sustaining drugs, hence it is necessary for the government to ensure that the drugs are readily available. To stop deaths caused by Covid-19 yet allow deaths from HIV and TB due to negligence is an exercise in futility.
The government, as much as it is constrained financially, must strike a balance to ensure no side suffers unnecessarily.