Update on Zambia Drug Shortages: Rationing Continues

A children's group in Zambia, where the country's government is struggle to handle HIV drug shortages.

James Pursey/EGPAF

A few weeks ago, we told you about recent drug shortages facing HIV patients in Zambia. Shortages of Nevirapine and Truvada, both key HIV medications, have been reported in Zambia since May 2013. According to an article published by AllAfrica.com, HIV-positive patients have been forced to ration their medications, with clinics providing patients with a two-week supply of medication that was required to last for four weeks.

Earlier this week, the Zambian government officially acknowledged that there is a challenge regarding the stocks of anti-retroviral (ARV) medications in the country, which it refers to not as a shortage, but as "rationing" according to a story published by Voice of America. This is the second time this year that more than 500,000 people living with HIV in Zambia have had to cope with medication rationing. 

Chikuta Mbewe, deputy director of pharmaceutical services in Zambia, explained to Voice of America that part of the problem was an ongoing switch in Zambia and other countries from one drug, Truvada, to another, Atripla.  Mbewe said complications with the switch have driven down the stocks of both drugs.

"I must hasten to say that there are a lot of planned shipments that have already started arriving in the country.  We think now we are in the normalization curve, so to say.  We hope we can get back to our normal levels,” he said.

The Ministry of Health indicated that the government has received 6,500 bottles of Abacavir tablets and is expecting an additional 55,260 bottles, as well as 91,000 bottles of Truvada, before the end of August.

Mbewe said the Zambian government wanted as many people as possible to begin taking Atripla, since an eight-month supply of the drug was expected to arrive in Zambia before the end of October.  The government’s strategy is to provide Atripla to as much as 95 percent of its HIV-positive population in order to simplify the supply chain.
Stayed tuned to the blog for more updates on these shortages in Zambia and elsewhere.

To learn more about the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s work in Zambia, click here.

Johanna Harvey is Senior Communications Officer for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.