A modelling exercise convened by the World Health Orgasization (WHO) and the UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) in May forecasted that a six-month disruption in access to antiretroviral (ARV) medicines due to COVID-19 could lead to a doubling of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 alone. Following a survey ahead of the biannual International AIDS Society (IAS) conference, 73 countries have warned that they are at risk of stock-outs and 24 countries report either critically low stock of ARVs or supply disruption.
In those countries reporting supply shortages, 8.3 million people were benefitting from ARVs, representing around one-third of all people taking HIV treatment globally. The causes of disruptions are failure of suppliers to deliver ARVs on time, a shut-down of transport links, and limited access to health services.
WHO developed guidance on preserving access to health services during the pandemic, encouraging multi-month prescriptions. To date, 129 countries have adopted this policy. The WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describes the survey findings as deeply concerning. “Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it. We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease.”