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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/26/22

People living with HIV demand end of medicine stockout: Indefinite sit-in begins

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Indefinite sit-in began on 21st July 2022 outside the offices of India's AIDS programme of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to demand an end to the frequent stockouts of lifesaving HIV antiretroviral medicines. "We will not end the sit-in in Delhi outside the office of National AIDS Control Organization until there is a concrete action taken by the government to end the stockout, and our people in different states of India confirm that medicines have reached them," said Hari Shankar Singh of Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP Plus).

"Dolutegravir and some antiretroviral medicines for children are out of stock at several places across India. These lifesaving antiretroviral medicines are very important for people living with HIV as it helps them live normally, fully, and stay virally suppressed (which also makes HIV undetectable, and untransmittable). In some states of India, drug stockouts are occurring since last five months. In Delhi, some antiretroviral treatment centres are giving medicines for only three to seven days. At some centres, there is no medicine left," said Manitosh who is taking HIV medicines since 2013. He is also a part of DNP Plus.

Hari Shankar Singh added: "People in Delhi should get antiretroviral medicines for a month but in several hospitals these medicines are out of stock. As a result, people are given medicines for three or four days, due to which they have to run around the hospitals more often to collect the doses. More out-of-pocket expenditure on transport, loss of work and loss of wages, waste of time, and sometimes, this frustration and difficulty in coping or adhering to treatment, leaves them little choice but to stop taking the medicines altogether. In several parts of India, medicines have been out of stock for past five or six months."

Taking antiretroviral medicines regularly is vital if one has to stay healthy and virally suppressed. That is why they are demanding that stockouts must end, and people should be given at least a month's supply of medicines in advance (and not asked to come back for re-fills every three or four days).

Hari Shankar Singh confirmed to CNS (Citizen News Service) that several rounds of meetings and negotiations were held with the officials of Government of India's National AIDS Control Organization in the past five months. But sadly these talks have failed in ending the stockouts. That is why communities of people living with HIV were left with no option but to go on an indefinite sit-in outside the offices of National AIDS Control Organization in Delhi to press for their demands.

Officials of National AIDS Control Organization came out to meet the peaceful protestors who were demanding end of drug stockouts. These officials gave several reasons for the stockout or action they have taken to address the issue, such as, process of tender or bidding for procurement of medicines is underway, or they have asked State AIDS Control Societies or antiretroviral treatment centres of the government to purchase medicines meantime, or other such stopgap assurances. But people living with HIV are not convinced by these so-called assurances.

"HIV virus circulating in our bodies will not listen to these assurances and pleas, it will not respond to tender process or bid process or paper work or administrative delays. HIV virus will only respond to antiretroviral medicines, if we take these medicines on time regularly," forcefully said Hari Shankar Singh.

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