More than a week after the Department of Health (DOH) addressed concerns about the shortage of life-saving antiretroviral medicines (ARV) for people living with HIV in the Philippines, complaints about the shortage continue to surface in various treatment facilities in the country.
Earlier, the DOH actually put the blame on the shortage on the “unprecedented increase in the use of TLD (Tenofovir-Lamivudine-Dolutegravir) among HIV patients prior to the targeted full-scale rollout of the transition from their existing regimens.” But supposedly to remedy the situation, the agency DOH expected 58,000 bottles of TLD) to arrive by end-June, 243,000 bottles of TLD in July, and 292,000 bottles in September.
And yet members of the HIV community continue to complain.
In a treatment facility in Makati City in Metro Manila, for instance, PLHIVs now only receive one bottle per refill (every three months). In Butuan in Mindanao, PLHIVs are reportedly given two bottles. In Cagayan de Oro City, also in Mindanao, PLHIVs also only currently receive one bottle per refill, similar to Makati City. There were also PLHIVs claiming to have been receiving stocks only for a week.
As reported, “may epekto rin ito sa kalagayan ng PLHIV. Halimbawa, dahil mas madalas nilang kailangang pumunta sa treatment hub, mas lumalaki ang gagastusin nila. At kung may trabaho sila, mas maraming araw nilang kailangang umabsent sa trabaho. Ang mga dagdag na gastos ay hindi babayaran ng DOH,” stated Michael David Tan, editor in chief of Outrage Magazine.
AFFECTING LIVES BADLY
For Choco, a person living with HIV in Northern Mindanao: “June nag-start (ang shortage). Kasi dati, three bottles (binibigay). Nag-refill ako (at) hindi ko inasahan na one bottle (ibibigay). Nasanay ka na sa three bottles eh, na-flatten na ang schedule mo sa iba mong (gagawin). For example may work ka sa ibang lugar, at least hindi ka mabahala. Pero kung one bottle, para kang nababahala kasi baka maubusan ka in that (time) kasi naka-set na eh.”
Unfortunately, Choco said, no one is able to provide satisfactory explanation. “It seems na wala silang binigay na paliwanag. Ano lang, ito lang muna kasi ano daw, delayed. Yun lang sinsasabi nila: ‘Delayed’.”
Choco added that this is a source of worry since the messaging in HIV is for them to be adherent to taking their medicines, which is not becoming improbable.
TWITTER CONTAINS COMPLAINTS
Reporting from Northern Mindanao, Stephen Christian P. Quilacio also noted that complaints – which may not be linked to official DOH channels – remain plenty, containing complaints from the HIV community.
“May mga PLHIV na pilit na pinalitan ang kanilang gamot hindi dahil kailangan, kundi dahil walang suplay ng iniinom nila. May mga PLHIV ding nagsasabing pinagbabayad na sila para makakuha ng gamot na wala sanang bayad,” Quilacio reported.
Pao, a person living with HIV but who also works in HIV advocacy in Northern Mindanao stated: “Dito sa region (namin), wala pa (shortage) kasi enough pa yung stocks. Pero… knowing na yung ibang regions meron nang issues with the shortage, at any given time – eventually – mag-wo-worry ka din baka kayo na ang susunod.”
He added: “It’s very obvious in the community dito sa Twitter na meron naman talaga nag-re-report na tig-pipitong tablets na lang, and even yung iba from three bottles naging isa, dalawa. Parang gusto talaga nating malaman kung ano ba talaga yung totoong nangyari. Na-reallocate na ba? At ano bang plano nila in the future nang hindi na talaga mangyari ito? Yung (issue) pa rin is more on the procurement. Maayos ba talaga yung pag-forecast nila na expected na TLD na stocks for this year and for the coming years?”
ONGOING ISSUE… WITH NO ONE GETTING SANCTIONED
ARV shortage was reported in 2014 and then again in 2019, and so “labis na nag-aalala ang mga PLHIVs sapagkat paulit-ulit na nagkakaroon ng issue sa procurement o pagkuha ng supplies ang DOH,” Quilacio stated.
For Tan, as long as DOH is not transparent about its procurement processes – thus issues – the HIV community will always worry that “kelan na naman sila mawawalan ng gamot na iinumin?”