Millions of lives could be at risk as the world stares at a shortage of HIV medication due to higher costs linked to lockdowns and COVID-19 border closures, UNAIDS said on Monday.
The agency said medication could run out in the next two months, noting that both the production of generic antiretroviral drugs and their distribution are threatened.
“It is vital that countries urgently make plans now to mitigate the possibility and impacts of higher costs and reduced availability of antiretroviral medicines,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
“I call on countries and buyers of HIV medicines to act swiftly in order to ensure that everyone who is currently on treatment continues to be on it, saving lives and stopping new HIV infections.”
UNAIDS also cited forecasting models that indicated that a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa alone could lead to 500,000 additional AIDS-related deaths.
Several factors linked to the pandemic risk pushing up the cost of producing HIV medicine.
These include increased manufacturing and transport costs, the need to find new sources of key pharmaceutical ingredients and currency fluctuations caused by the economic shock of COVID-19.
UNAIDS said it was working to mitigate the impact of the projected shortage.
“Immediate funding” of up to $1 billion has been pledged by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help countries to respond to COVID-19, UNAIDS said, while the Fund is also expanding the use of its procurement platform to non-Global Fund recipients.