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AIDS deaths to rise as ARV shortage bites

Sharon Mathala
PERMANENT SECRETARY, MOH: Maphorisa

350 000 HIV POSITIVE PATIENTS AT RISK

>Government bleeds P40 million in drug supply

Over 350 000 HIV positive patients’ lives are hanging in the balance as an acute shortage of Anti Retroviral Drugs (ARV) hits the public health system.

Two days before a court case launched by government to appeal an interdict that was placed on the ARV supply tender, which interrupted the flow of the life saving drugs to patients about nine months ago, a highly placed source within the Ministry of Health has revealed in an interview that the state of affairs in public hospitals and clinics has become dire.

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An affidavit in an Antiretroviral (ARV) Drugs tender supply case to be heard in court today (Friday) has revealed that the country faces a dramatic rise in the number of deaths from AIDS because of shortage drugs.

“We are now in the red zone because for nine months now government hasn’t had any supply of ARVs and global manufacturers have reached a stage where they no longer give Botswana government preference, causing even further delay in supply, ” said the concerned doctor.

The situation was a result of a court interdict that was successfully launched by one pharmaceutical company, which sought relief for what they described as “ irregularities” in about 28 tender awards for ARVS.

The matter was brought to court after the introduction of many players in the supply space, which was once dominated by Portfolio Pharmaceutical Botswana (PTY) Ltd for 15 years.

“The 28 tender items were floated last year January and 24 items were successfully awarded. Out of the 24 only 3 tenders went to Portfolio pharmaceuticals, whilst the rest were distributed amongst other companies. Four of the tender items the company had suggested to government were turned down because they had wrong labels and some of them were not yet registered in Botswana,” the source explained.

However on January the 22nd this year, Portfolio Pharmaceutical Botswana (PTY) Ltd citing irregularities in the tendering process, successfully interdicted the tender process through the court, causing a short supply in ARVs.

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Since then Government resorted to Request For Quote (RFQ) short-term method to supply ARVS, which comes at a heavy cost.

“The delay tactic has so far cost Government over 40 million pula because with RFQs companies are free to make a mark up on the original price. This particular company has been in the game for so long and has ties in India, which means they still benefit as they are the only ones who are able to supply government with readily available medication,” the highly placed source revealed.

By early August, the supply had reduced by half, The Voice can confidently confirm.

“This has led to Government resorting to the use of a process called rationalisation of patients, which entails weekly supply of ARVs instead of monthly. Patients on the 2nd and 3rd level of the drugs are the most affected,” the source said.

Government is therefore banking on today’s (Friday) high court judgement after they sought the court’s assistance on a matter of urgency to overturn the decision to suspend the tender to avoid a looming crises that could lead to massive loss of lives.

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“The magnitude of the crisis will only increase dramatically if the court order is not overturned on an urgent basis, it is devastating,” the government pleads in an affidavit seen by The Voice on Wednesday.

Reached for comment the Central Medical Store (CMS) manager, Keletso Israel advised The Voice journalist to attend todays (Friday) judgement, while the Permanent Secretary in the MoH, Ruth Maphorisa’s phone rang answered.

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