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DOH pledges HIV meds for all PLHIVs within 2023, blames increase of new med users – not its procurement process – for ARV shortage

With the shortage in ARV medicines for people with HIV, DOH assured that over 370,000 bottles of HIV medications are set to arrive within 2023, supposedly enough to cover all PLHIVs nationwide. But they also blamed the increase in TLD users for the stockout, instead of their procurement problems.

Finally addressing the ongoing shortage in the stocks of life-saving antiretroviral medicines (ARV) that people living with HIV (PLHIV) need to take to control the increase of HIV in their systems, the Department of Health (DOH) assured that over 370,000 bottles of HIV medications are set to arrive within 2023, supposedly enough to cover all PLHIVs nationwide.

As reported by Inquirer.net, the DOH expects 58,000 bottles of Tenofovir-Lamivudine-Dolutegravir (TLD) to arrive by the end of June. 243,000 bottles of TLD will also arrive by July 2023, and another 292,000 bottles in September 2023.

Interestingly, the DOH put the blame on the shortage on the “unprecedented increase in the use of TLD among HIV patients prior to the targeted full-scale rollout of the transition from their existing regimens,” the DOH was quoted as saying.

Following the Philippine TLD Transition Plan, new PLHIVs who have yet to start ARV as well as those who had adverse drug reactions in their current regimens (e.g. efavirenz) were prioritized for transition to TLD in 2020 to 2022. In 2023, others followed suit, thus – supposedly – leading to the shortage.

Michael David Tan, editor in chief of Outrage Magazine and executive director of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center), said that this shortage – or stockout – is not actually new, with shortages also reported by Outrage Magazine in 2014 and 2019.

“When talking about HIV, lives are always at stake,” Tan said. In the case of ARV shortage, “if you don’t provide PLHIVs their meds, their health will worsen, and this could – if not will – kill them. That’s the gist here.”

Tan stressed three interconnected points:

  1. HIV infection continues to increase in the country, now reaching 54 per day; and yet
  2. the agency tasked to make sure that PLHIVs always get their med supplies repeatedly falter, unable to properly make projections, even acting “surprised that many people are taking these life-saving meds even if the HIV figures also come from them”; and
  3. the same agency now blames those who are taking TLD when “it should – yet again – focus on its procurement practices that continue to be apparently problematic since this is – yet again – not exactly a new issue.”

The Inquirer.net report added that the DOH will similarly facilitate the entry of 146,000 more bottles of ARVs into the country “to ensure that there will be enough medications for PLHIVs until next year.”

Even if this issue has been worsening for weeks now at least this time around, the Network Plus Philippines, Inc. (N+) only recently publicly released a statement to demand for DOH to deal with the dwindling supply of HIV medications.

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N+ claimed that they have been informed of the situation since May 25, and have already coordinated with concerned offices. But actions have not been sufficient, even from the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) that, as of the writing of the N+ letter, has yet to release a statement on the issue.

“The national PLHIV community has been demanding long-term solutions since we first experienced the problem of ARV stockout in 2014. Yet, we see only stopgap solutions like redistribution of stocks,” N+ stated. “We can no longer settle for intermediary reactive or stopgap measures to this cyclical problem.”

Cagayan de Oro City-based Stephen Christian Quilacio may be known as a party-goer (and yes, there's nothing wrong with that!). But this Bachelor of Architecture grad is serious when it comes to LGBTQIA and HIV advocacies - e.g. he founded Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA) to mainstream the issues of people living with HIV in Mindanao; and produced "Lima" and eventually "Red Lives" via community theater to share HIV-centric stories particularly to grassroots community. Pushing for fringe communities to no longer be excluded is what drives Stephen; and "if this can be done in a fun way, so much the better," he smiled.

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