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ZIMBABWE: Price of ARVs rockets in declining economy
September 30, 2005
- HIV-positive Zimbabweans are reeling from a dramatic increase
in the price of anti-AIDS drugs, which has quadrupled the cost of
the life-prolonging medication in the past three months.
In July, a month's
supply of a fixed-dose combination of antiretrovirals (ARVs) went
up from Zim $200,000 (US $7.70) to Zim $450,000 (US $17) and now
costs up to Zim $1.2 million (US $46) in most pharmacies.
warned that in the current economic climate, these price hikes could
have critical repercussions for patients on treatment.
has the world's fourth highest rate of HIV infection, is going through
a severe economic crisis with serious fuel and food shortages due
to recurring droughts and the government's fast-track land redistribution
programme, which have disrupted agricultural production and slashed
are giving up [their] drugs - they have to choose between feeding
and educating their kids or taking ARVs. It's becoming more of a
struggle to get the basic necessities ... ARVs are way down on their
list of priorities," said Lynde Francis, who runs The Centre,
an HIV/AIDS NGO with 4,500 registered clients.
that people who were forced to interrupt their treatment regimen
because they could no longer afford to buy the drugs were putting
their health at risk. "These drugs need to be taken continuously
... any kind of hiccup can cause resistance [to the ARVs],"
David Parirenyatwa, Zimbabwe's Minister of Health and Child Welfare,
told IRIN that the government's treatment programme continued selling
the drugs at the same price - Zim $50,000 (US $2) - and would continue
to be heavily subsidised by the state, protecting patients from
price of ARVs remained constant in the state-run treatment programme,
Francis pointed out that the same could not be said of transport
fees, the cost of drugs for opportunistic infections and laboratory
exams. "There's a huge amount of hidden costs [in the national
treatment programme], and these things have become cripplingly expensive,"
noted that the public rollout of ARVs would also feel the pinch.
"I anticipate that patients in the private sector will be jumping
over to the public sector, so we need to expand our capacities to
be able to absorb them," he added.
While it was
difficult to quantify the number of people accessing ARVs in the
private sector, "it should be a significant amount - you cannot
ignore the companies [providing drugs to employees] and the people
who prefer to use pharmacies," Parirenyatwa said.
A source in
the pharmaceutical industry, who asked not be named, admitted that
"it is the private sector which is currently facing a crisis"
because it was experiencing shortages and had to use stock loaned
from the public programme.
In 2002 the
government declared a state of emergency over HIV/AIDS, allowing
the importation and local manufacture of cheaper generic drugs.
Douglas Shoniwa, president of the Retail Pharmacists Association,
even local generic drug manufacturers were being hamstrung by the
scarcity of foreign currency. "They need to import raw materials
to make the ARVs, but they lack foreign currency," he said.
also had to face this added economic burden with very little external
financing. Western donors froze aid to Zimbabwe in response to its
controversial land reform programme and reports of violence and
intimidation during the 2000 and 2002 elections.
politicisation of AIDS by the Global Fund, PEPFAR [US President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and other donors [has resulted in
an] obscenely low amount of aid coming in," Francis commented.
Last year the
Global Fund rejected Zimbabwe's request for US $218 million over
five years for "technical reasons". Parirenyatwa accused
the Geneva-based agency of political bias, which the Global Fund
setbacks, Parirenyatwa was optimistic that the country's application
to the Global Fund would be successful. "If we can't get money
from the Global Fund or PEPFAR, we will have to do as much as we
can on our own," he commented.
the World Health Organisation's (WHO) progress report on its '3
by 5' initiative, an estimated 15,000 of the 295,000 Zimbabweans
who need treatment are receiving it. The government has declared
a national treatment target of 55,000 people by the end of 2005.
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