Following reports of a shortage of second line antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in health facilities across the country, last week the Democratic Alliance (DA) wrote to newly appointed Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, as well as the Health Ombudsman, Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba, to seek clarity on the matter.
Today, Minister Mkhize has responded through a media statement in attempt to downplay why health facilities are running low or have simply run out of ARV treatment for patients. What is most concerning about the Minister’s response, is the seeming avoidance of accepting culpability for the delay in supplying ARV treatments to these health facilities.
The DA has been reliably informed that in addition to the supplier – Mylan – suffering from the global shortage of lamivudine needed for the production of these drugs, there has also been a delay in awarding the tender to Mylan on the side of the Department of Health. This means the scale of the problem could have been avoided, had the Department of Health acted speedily.
The reality is that the patients who require this second line of ARV treatment have become resistant or intolerant of the first line of treatment and therefore being on this medication is a matter of urgency. Prolonged periods without this treatment could present long term complications and further resistance.
Minister Mkhize and the Department of Health’s response to this crisis is insufficient.
The Minister’s statement provides no contingency plan to address the shortages in facilities which have run out completely. In addition, there are no assurances to the people of South Africa who rely on this medication on how the department would cushion the blow of a global shortage in times like this, or how his department will put measures in place to ensure there are no delays in the tendering processes going forward.
Mkhize’s first crisis in office is being handled poorly and those on the receiving end of the service being provided by the Department of Health can ill-afford the lethargic response of his department in moments of crisis.
I urge the Minister to take the country into his confidence and provide leadership on this issue before we find ourselves in a nation-wide ARV treatment stockout disaster.