HEALTH CRISIS

Patients bear the brunt of ARVs standoff

Of greater concern are pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

In Summary

• Eight facilities in Homa Bay county have not had stock for the past one week and have been referring patients to other facilities.

• Even before the current shortage, children in Kenya were facing trouble accessing the right medication

Some of ARV tablets for clinical HIV treatment.
Some of ARV tablets for clinical HIV treatment.
Image: FILE

Fred has been living with HIV for 12 years now.

He lives in Kibera and has been depending on a meagre wage, which he lost due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

When he went for his ARVs refill, he was told there was no stock. His other option was to buy from a private hospital nearby.

With no money, he can barely afford food. leave alone buy the drugs. Hopeless, he went back to his house not sure of what would happen next.

“You can’t afford food, but you are expected to buy drugs yet the same drugs have been lying somewhere instead of being cleared. The government is killing us slowly,” Fred said.

Stella is a resident of Homa Bay, a county worst hit by the shortage of ARVs in the country.

When she went for her refill at her local facility, she was referred to another hospital kilometres away to go and try her luck.

Eight facilities in the county have not had stock for the past one week and have been referring patients to other hospitals.

“Where I am, there is a shortage of ARVs and patients are referred to take their medication from Kendu, Miriu or Gendia. Those places are far but since it is a matter of life and death, there is no option but to go,” she said.

Some have to trek longer distances for longer hours in search for the life-saving drugs.

“Even if you get the drugs, you are given just a one month refill because you are told if they give you more, others will miss,” she added.

Of greater concern is pregnant and breastfeeding mothers who have to take drugs to ensure mother-to-child transmission is prevented.

Even before the current shortage, children in Kenya were facing trouble accessing the right medication.

About 106,807 children below 14 years are living with HIV, but only 72,968 are on treatment, according to the National Aids Control Council. That number is expected to rise.

The shortage has especially affected Dolutegravir, whose sweet tablets for children had been announced in December.

Most common paediatric drugs include a syrup that is 40 per cent alcohol, and has a bitter metallic taste that lingers for hours.

Lack of drugs for adults could also lead to more babies born with HIV.

“We are concerned for our people. We are concerned that we are going to have more deaths, probably more than they are dying from Covid-19 [complications],” Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga said.

The stand-off comes after USAID, that sponsors the commodities, eschewed Kemsa and sent ARVs and test kits to Kenya through a private US company, Chemonics International.

As a result, a Sh1.1 billion consignment has been lying at the port since January 18 after being slapped with a Sh90 million tax bill.

USAID also wants to establish its own, parallel drug distribution system in Kenya through Chemonics instead of using Kemsa.

Some of the commodities being held include HIV testing, treatment and prevention commodities such as ARVs, laboratory reagents as well as TB diagnostic and prevention medications.

Many people living with HIV are given less than the expected dosages in small polythene papers when they go for their refills.

The civil society is now up in arms, demanding the government ensures the drugs are released to the patients who need them the most, especially at this time when the country is experiencing the Covid-19 third wave.

The government has, however, maintained that everything is being done to ensure the situation is handled.