Kenya: HIV Drug Shortages 'Critical'

JOHANNESBURG -- A severe shortage of two antiretrovirals (ARVs) produced by leading pharmaceutical Bristol-Myers Squibb in Kenya, could have critical repercussions for patients, says Medecines sans Frontieres (MSF).

Patients with no access to the drugs could put their health at risk by having their treatment interrupted because the drugs needed to be taken continuously, Daniel Berman of the MSF's Access to Essential Medecines Campaign, told PlusNews.

According to the Kenya Coalition for the Access to Essential Medicines, a survey of seven district hospitals revealed that six of the hospitals were either completely out of stock of both drugs, or experienced irregular supply shortages.

"These shortages are unacceptable given the nature of ARV therapy for HIV: correct dosing, rigorous adherence to scheduling and absolute compliance are all paramount factors that affect outcomes ... of treatment. Positive results cannot be achieved without a guaranteed drug supply," the coalition said in a letter to Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Attempts to deal with the current shortages included pharmacists dispensing Videx 100mg tablets with a razor blade for patients to slice a tablet into four for their 25mg dosage, the coalition said. Other patients were being forced to switch to alternative medicine.

"The situation is very threatening and we are worried about hospitals and other institutions that have run out by now ... this shortage has been running for several months," Wyger Wentholt, press officer for MSF France in Kenya -- a member of the coalition -- told PlusNews.

While MSF had access to a buffer stock and had managed to order the drugs from France for MSF patients, local doctors and medical facilities did not have this option, Berman said.

"Something needs to be done immediately for the individual who cannot afford the drugs at full-price," he added.

The shortages affected discounted formulations of the drug and not the full price antiretrovirals, the coalition said.

Last year, the pharmaceutical company announced price reductions for their ARVS used by public institutions and NGOs. The cost of Videx 25mg and Zerit 30mg decreased by 51 percent and 98 percent respectively. "But price reductions without consistent drug supplies are dangerous," the coalition said.

"The supply crisis in Kenya is basically considered resolved at this point," Bristol-Myers Squibb spokesperson, Robert Laverty, told PlusNews. He added that the company had been working with local distributors to solve the problem.

"This is news to us as we sent the letter two weeks ago and the problem still exists," a member of the coalition told PlusNews on Tuesday.

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