Over 70 Countries Risk Shortage of Antiretroviral Medicines – WHO

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As hundreds of scientists ask WHO to revert COVID-19 Guidelines

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World Health Organisation

More than 70 nations are currently at risk of running out of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines supply, as the battle against the dreaded COVID-19 deepens across the globe, with people having underlying health conditions worst hit, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has said.

The WHO in its latest survey said seventy-three countries have warned that they are at risk of stock-outs of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while twenty-four countries reported having either a critically low stock of ARVs or disruptions in the supply of these life-saving medicines.

This is coming as hundreds of scientists across the globe have asked the WHO to revise its recommendation for the novel Coronavirus, as evidence suggests that air borne smaller particles of the virus can infect people.

Scientists call on WHO to revise COVID-19 recommendation

The report as published in New York Times revealed that 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing smaller particles can infect people in an open letter to the global body and plan to further publish it in a scientific journal soon.

Recall that the WHO had disclosed that the viral disease spreads basically from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are discharged when an infected person with the disease coughs or sneezes or speaks.

However, the WHO has disregarded the evidence presented by the scientists, saying the report which indicated that the virus is airborne was not convincing enough.

HIV-related deaths connected to COVID-19, TB, others

Following the disruption in supply of HIV medicines to over 70 countries, the apex health body’s survey revealed that many HIV-related deaths resulted from infections that take advantage of an individual’s weakened immune system. “These include bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis, viral infections like hepatitis and COVID-19, parasitic infections such as toxoplasmosis and fungal infections, including histoplasmosis”.

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To mitigate mortality rate among HIV patients, the WHO disclosed that it will be releasing new guidelines for the diagnosis and management of histoplasmosis, among people living with HIV. Histoplasmosis is highly prevalent in the WHO Region of the Americas, where as many as 15 600 new cases and 4500 deaths are reported each year among people living with HIV. Many of these deaths could be prevented through timely diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Progress towards HIV global targets obstructed

While the data released from the survey conducted by UNAIDS and WHO, indicated new HIV infections fell by 39 per cent  between 2000 and 2019, it also showed that HIV-related deaths fell by 51 per cent over the same time period, and some 15 million lives were saved through the use of antiretroviral therapy.

However, progress towards global targets is stalling, the agency noted as over the last two years, the annual number of new HIV infections has plateaued at 1.7 million and there was only a modest reduction in HIV-related death, from 730 000 in 2018 to 690 000 in 2019.  Despite steady advances in scaling up treatment coverage – with more than 25 million people in need of ARVs receiving them in 2019 – key 2020 global targets will be missed, it insisted.

WHO’s call on national governments to salvage the situation

A failure of suppliers to deliver ARVs on time and a shut-down of land and air transport services, coupled with limited access to health services within countries as a result of the pandemic, were among the causes cited for the disruptions in the survey.

Reacting to the development, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said findings of this survey are 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”, he stressed.

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