Amid protests over HIV drugs ‘shortage’, govt says enough stock

Amid protests on drug shortage and stock-outs by people living with HIV (PLHIV), the Union Health Ministry in reply to a Parliament question has said that there is adequate stock of medicines for 95% of those on treatment and there is a three-month stock available nationally of the three-drug Dolutegravir combination pill.

“There is adequate stock of ARV medicines nationally for around 95% PLHIV in India who are on various 1st and 2nd line ARV regimens….most of the PLHIV in India are on the single pill Dolutegravir-based regimen (Tablet TLD: Tenofovir+Lamivudine+Dolutegravir), for which there is around 3 months’ stock nationally,” said the written reply of Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dr Bharti Pravin Pawar.

The protesters, however, continue to sit outside the office of National AIDS Control Organisation, demanding that all the medicines be made available and sufficient stock be maintained so that pills for an entire month can be dispensed in one go. The PLHIV started their protest on July 21 after stocks of some of the medicines ran out even in the capital.

Harishanker, one of the protesters associated with the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP Plus), said: “Let’s go by their statement: There are nearly 15 lakh people on ART (anti-retroviral therapy) across the country. If the drugs are not available even for 5%, it affects 75,000 people with HIV. Going off treatment is a death sentence for PLHIV.”

He added that the shortage was never of the TLD combination single pill, instead of the separate Dolutegravir 50mg pill. “The combination pill is available, yes. The problem is with the separate Dolutegravir 50mg pill, which is given to PLHIV who have tuberculosis and many on second and third line therapies,” he said, adding that many people returned empty-handed from one of the biggest ART centres in Delhi at Lok Nayak hospital just one day ago.

In addition, there is also a shortage of Lopinavir/Ritonavir that is prescribed to children and nevirapine syrup given to infants in many states, he said.

“The ARV stock status is monitored stringently by NACO. There is no reported stock out for ARV drugs at the state level,” the Parliament reply stated.

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The reply also said: “If there is occasional anticipated shortage issue, then proactive steps are taken to ensure uninterrupted supply of ARV drugs to all PLHIV through immediate relocation from nearby ART centres or other states. Further, State/District AIDS Control Societies are authorised to do emergency local procurement of ARV drugs (as per requirement, & as an interim measure) from their budgeted Grant-in-aid. Sufficient budget is allocated under the head “ARV for exceptional cases” for all 36 SACS under Annual Action Plan by NACO for emergency local procurement of ARV medicines.”

The protesters said some of the “proactive” states have indeed made local purchases of the medicines, but others continue to face shortage because of the national supply being interrupted after tender failure.