HIV PEP drug shortage hits hospitals

HOSPITALS in Zimbabwe have been hit by a shortage of drugs that reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure, otherwise known as post exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Zimbabwe Aids Network coordinator Taurai Nyandoro confirmed the shortage, saying it must be addressed immediately as many people were at risk of contracting the virus, especially rape victims.

“It’s an emergency because there are issues of rape and we need to administer PEP within 72 hours after exposure to risk. The shortages pose a risk to new HIV infections,” said Nyandoro.
PEP is a combination of HIV drugs that can stop the virus taking hold of the body.
It can be used after exposure if an individual has a risk of HIV transmission.

In order to work, Pep must be taken within three days after exposure to HIV.

Nyandoro said one way to avoid the shortage of PEP is to estimate the demand like what is done with ARVs.

“The challenge fuelling the shortage is quantifying demand for PEP. We haven’t been able to quantify the demand. At the same time, we can’t just keep stock without numbers because it will expire and we are supposed to be accountable for that,” Nyandoro said.

A sex worker, Primrose Kuvhambura who is also a member of Katswe Sistahood, said apart from the shortages another challenge is that of cumbersome procedures in accessing PEP.

She said sex workers encounter difficulties in accessing the drugs due to discrimination, especially when they fall victim to rape because not many health workers believe that commercial sex workers can be victims of rape.

“Sometimes girls become sex workers when they are young and get raped. PEP should be administered to them without asking them to bring their parents. PEP should be administered immediately and then other steps can be taken after the affected individual is safe,” Kuvhambura said.

This comes as the country has been facing drug shortages for a while now owing to foreign currency shortages.

To ameliorate the shortages, the National Pharmaceutical Company of Zimbabwe has been given a 48-hour ultimatum 48 to approach the local market to procure the required medicine and sundries using RTGS dollars to speed up the procurement process in the country.

Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo said government is also engaging local companies to sell them drugs using the local currency instead of insisting on foreign currencies.