CORONAVIRUS ALERT

State to give HIV-positive people bulk ARVs for 3 months

All ART facilities will be supplied with up to four months of stock of ARVs early next month

In Summary

• HIV-positive people are likely to get seriously sick if they contract coronavirus.

• People being weaned of drug abuse will continue to get daily doses of methadone at the respective clinics. 

In Kenya, at least 1.6 million people are living with HIV and one million are on ARVs.
In Kenya, at least 1.6 million people are living with HIV and one million are on ARVs.

People living with HIV will now get bulk stocks of ARVs to last them three months, beginning next week, the Ministry of Health says. 

Health facilities in Nairobi have already implemented the directive and some are dispensing drugs to last up to six months.

The National Aids and STIs Control Programme issued the directive on Tuesday to reduce crowding in ARVs clinics countrywide in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. 

HIV-positive people are likely to get seriously sick if they contract coronavirus when their immune system is compromised or they already have other diseases like tuberculosis.

Kenya has about 1.6 million people living with HIV, and one million take life-prolonging antiretroviral pills daily.

"To reduce clinic attendance and drug pickup frequencies... up to three-month multi-month dispensing of ARVs should be considered for all people living with HIV regardless of age and viral status," Nascop head Dr Catherine Ngugi said in a circular to all county executives for health. 

She said all ART facilities will be supplied with up to four months of stock of ARVs early next month, subject to stock levels at the national warehouse.

She said the move would protect thousands of people who collect ARVs from health facilities daily across the country. 

"Individuals living with HIV, especially those with co-morbid conditions and/or advanced HIV disease, may be at greater risk of Covid-19 related complications," she says in the letter seen by the Star. 

Dr Ngugi also advised that some facilities should adopt community ART groups, where one patient picks drugs for about 15 people in their community and delivers to them.

Previously, only a few individuals with stable immunity were allowed to pick up enough drugs to last more than one month.

People living HIV have welcomed the move.

"We welcome the directive and hope there will be compliance. This is what we call differentiated service delivery model of multi-month-dispensing," Nelson Otuoma, head of Nephak, the umbrella body of people living with HIV, said.

Nascop also announced that people being weaned off drug abuse will continue to get daily doses of methadone at their respective clinics. 

However, Dr Ngugi advised staggered scheduling of clinic appointments.

Last week, the ministry declined a request by people living with HIV to give them enough drugs to last four months.

Acting director general for health Patrick Amoth told the Star such a measure was not necessary.

"There is nothing to warrant that at the moment," he said on Wednesday, noting the government would review measures depending on how the coronavirus crisis unfolds. 

HIV lobbies made their request through a letter to Health CS Mutahi Kagwe. 

"Our concern is mainly that over one million people collect ARVs in different health facilities and some of the facilities are always crowded," Otuoma said. 

Edited by Henry Makori