Is Papua New Guinea Really Running Out of HIV Medication?

The press is reporting that Papua New Guinea is rapidly running out of HIV drugs, which puts residents with HIV at serious risk.

These concerns come from local advocacy groups that say recent budget cuts have led to clinics throughout Papua New Guinea eating into what are known as “buffer stocks”, putting the approximately 51,000 people living with HIV in Papua New Guinea in a precarious situation.

“People living with HIV patients you know mentally it is affecting them because they are worried about their future,” Lesley Bola of the Key Population Partnership Network Consortium told Radio New Zealand. “We had a few positive people there who were very outspoken about their worry about what is going to happen to them if nothing comes.”

Mr Bola is not alone in raising these concerns.

David Bridger, head of UNAIDS in Papua New Guinea, echoed sentiments that this situation is extremely worrying. ”We’re talking about quite a serious situation,” he told Radio Australia. “We are now currently eating into our three- to six-month buffer stock of anti-retroviral treatment.”

How has this happened?

Papua New Guinea’s financial problems are well established, something that has not been helped by natural disasters like the recent earthquake, already poor infrastructure, and political instability in a number of provinces.

As a result, the government has slashed its budget for HIV treatment, more than halving it for fiscal year 2018. ABC.net reports that the country’s HIV program had already seen cuts from 18.2 million Kina, which works out at about $5,428,855 USD, to 5.1 million Kina, or  $1,568,425 USD.

That’s a massive drop, and the forecast over the next two years hasn’t been made, meaning there is a black hole in spending for HIV therapies.

To put this in contrast, advocacy groups have said they need around 15 million kina to keep the HIV program working.

The government says these fears are overblown.

The Papua New Guinea Secretary of Health, Mr. Pascoe Kase reportedly denied that the shortage is as urgent as has been claimed.

Mr. Kase has said that there are limited supplies, but that is for a number of reasons. One is the cost of HIV medications, which Kase cites as being incredibly high at the moment. The second is that most clinics do not stock the drugs in high numbers for costs and logistics reasons (for example, storage).

Mr. Kase maintains that most clinics have a three to four month supply of medications available to them, and that more are on order and can be delivered within eight weeks. This should mean that patients are given an uninterrupted supply.

These assurances have not helped quell fears, though, as the government has failed to answer requests for exact figures on current stocks, whether consignments of new HIV medicines have been paid for, and when they will arrive.

Without these precise details, advocacy groups say they will not ease up pressure, and while we might be quick to accuse them of scaremongering, it’s important to put this in context.

Papua New Guinea’s HIV problem: a symptom of wider issues.

Papua New Guinea has a high prevalence of HIV for a country of its size, and while it has had some major success in delivering medication to adults, it has particular problems delivering antiretroviral therapy to children who need them, with only about a 39 percent receiving ART.

Testing has improved, and work to battle HIV-based discrimination has meant that more people are now feeling empowered to look after their sexual health.

Despite this, sexual violence remains a problem in Papua New Guinea, and sex workers are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. There are also significant concerns about drug resistance in the area, something that could be exacerbated if the ART supply is interrupted.

In the meantime, advocacy groups say that with the threat of dwindling ART supplies, they are seeing an uptick in people offering “miracle” cures for HIV which often involve dangerous home brewed substances that could land people in the hospital or worse.

Furthermore, people living with HIV may be tempted to start rationing their HIV medication. It is absolutely critical they do not do this, as it could render their medication ineffective.

Are these fears overblown? There certainly seems to be a sensationalist element in some press reports. But underlying that is the real fear that, due to a lack of transparency from the Papua New Guinea government and the bare facts of a massive funding shortfall, Papua New Guinea’s HIV medication supply is no longer secure.

For anyone living with HIV in the country, this is desperately concerning and they are right to demand answers.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

38 comments

Chad A
Chad Anderson1 months ago

Thank you!

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DAVID f
Dave fleming2 months ago

Tfs

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Leo Custer
Leo C2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N2 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N2 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N2 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Anne M
Anne M2 months ago

Greetings to Papua New Guinea from the North!

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John W
John W2 months ago

TYFST.

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Toni W
Toni W2 months ago

TYFS

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