A solon yesterday said the Department of Health (D-H) is running out of drugs for the daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) of more than 38,000 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) patients.
“The department acknowledged during a budget briefing that the 125 HIV treatment hubs across the country have just enough drug supplies to last until this week – the first week of September,” said Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Michael Defensor, a former Malacañang chief of staff.
DoH officials assured lawmakers that new batches of ART drugs are expected to arrive this month, but they did not say when exactly, according to Defensor.
“We are puzzled that on one hand, the DoH is able to stockpile billions of pesos worth of medicines, some of which have become useless, while on the other hand, the department risks running out of some badly-needed drugs,” said Defensor.
“It is not fair to deprive patients access to their course of therapy simply because the DoH is unable to purchase and distribute the drugs on time,” said Defensor.
Defensor urged the DoH to overhaul the way it plans the procurement and distribution of medicines.
A Commission on Audit (CoA) report earlier pointed out that the DoH as of December 31, 2018 had P18.449 billion worth of medicines -- purchased from 2015 to 2018 -- that have yet to be distributed to public health care facilities.
The large inventory included some P367-million worth of drugs that have already expired, or are nearing expiry, according to the CoA report.
He said 900 Filipinos initiated on ART every month
“The uninterrupted supply of drugs in HIV treatment hubs is crucially important because apart from the 38,000 cases already on ART, another 900 Filipinos are being initiated on ART every month,” said Defensor.
ART enables Filipinos living with HIV to live more productive, healthier and longer lives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO recommends ART for everybody who has HIV. The therapy involves the use of a combination of medicines to treat HIV infection.
People on ART take the medicines every day to reduce the amount of HIV in the body and to lessen the hazard of HIV transmission.
Only 57% of Filipinos living with HIV are on ART, a total of 38,279 Filipinos living with HIV were undergoing ART as of May this year, based on DoH data.
They account for 57 percent of the 67,395 cases listed in the National HIV and AIDS Registry as May.
Five percent or 3,357 of the cases in the registry have already died, while another 8,017 cases were suffering from “advanced HIV infection, or at clinical stages 3 or 4 based on WHO standards” as of May.
HIV causes AIDS, or the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which destroys the human body’s natural ability to ward off all kinds of infections. Although HIV still does not have any known cure, ART slows the progression of the virus to a near halt.
A total of 5,366 new HIV cases were diagnosed in the country from January to May this year, up 14.7 percent from the 4,680 new cases detected in the same period in 2018.