A group of HIV patients protested the shortage of antiretroviral drugs outside the National Aids Control Organization (NACO) in Delhi on Thursday, 21 July.
Thirty to forty patients living in different parts of the capital stating that access to antiretroviral drugs was their right. According to a report in Scroll, the patients claim a shortage of medicines at hospitals across Delhi has put their lives at risk, and blamed the government for the same.
Antiretroviral drugs save the lives of thousands living with HIV or HIV AIDS. NACO is the central government agency tasked with providing the medicines, diagnostic kits, and other essentials like training, to treat patients living with HIV.
The protesters claimed that many Antiretroviral Therapy Centres in the capital were out of stocks of HIV medication.
Not all patients living with HIV suffer from AIDS. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), if untreated, leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
India has a population of approximately 138 crore people. According to NACO, as of 2020, 0.22 percent of Indians in the 15-49 age group suffer from HIV. India's total HIV caseload was estimated to be anywhere from 18-30 lakh people in 2020.
So, in short, the availability of these drugs means the difference between life and death for hundreds of thousands of people.
Why Is There A Shortage Of Life-Saving HIV Medicines?
FIT spoke to Pravin Mutyel, director of Snehalaya, an NGO that works for women, children and LGBT communities who have been affected by HIV and AIDS, trafficking, and violence. Snehalaya is one of many NGOs who work with antiretroviral treatment and support for people living with HIV.
"NACO currently has a shortage of Lopinavir. NACO hasn't supplied Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Centres with these medicines for around six months."Pravin Mutyel, Director, Snehalaya
In December 2021, the NACO, till then responsible for procuring and supplying HIV antiretroviral drugs to states, passed the buck to states, asking them to procure the drugs themselves. This came after the central government organization failed to choose a bidder for purchase orders of life-saving medication.
"For the past six months we haven't received any supply of antiretroviral medicines from NACO. We purchase the drugs from private suppliers and it costs people approximately Rs. 3000 for a month's worth of medicines. And that's just one medicine."Pravin Mutyel, Director, Snehalaya
Apart from Lopinavir, NACO's failure to produce and supply anti-retroviral drugs extends to other vital medication including ritonavir and dolutegravir, according to Scroll.
Earlier in June, several states in North East India reported that antiretroviral drugs were inaccessible to them. The Manipur State Human Rights Commission also notified that a stock-out had taken place in multiple ART centres. A stock-out occurs when consumer demand vastly exceeds supply.
"These drugs help manage a HIV patient's immune system. Without them, their very lives are in danger."Pravin Mutyel, Director, Snehalaya
What is NACO Saying?
Responding to the Quint's query, a NACO representative said, on 29 July, "after persuasion by NACO and with active cooperation of national networks of persons living with HIV (PLHIV), 4 representatives of the protesters had a round of discussion with senior officers of NACO on 25th July afternoon."
In their response, NACO admits to there being a temporary shortage of drugs at some Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centres, and that all the stakeholders were informed of this.
"They were informed about the position regarding drugs availability and they were told to jointly work with state AIDS control societies and NACO for the availablity of drugs at those few ART CENTRES which were running shot on supplies, temporarily."NACO to the Quint
However, they also insist that, there is no reported stock out for any Anti Retroviral (ARV) drugs, and that fresh supply orders for procurement of the next lot of several drugs have already been placed.
"There is adequate stock nationally for around 95 percent PLHIV in the country who are on 1st & 2nd line ARV regimens like Tablet TLD (Tenofovir+ Lamivudine+ Dolutegravir) & other ARV regimens."NACO to the Quint
"CMSS has been requested to supply the 1st lot of the drugs at the earliest, so as to ensure that before the present stock runs out, the fresh lot of drugs would have been received," they added.
Despite the assurance, the protest outside the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) office, in Delhi continues.