MASHONALAND West province is facing a critical shortage of second line anti-retroviral drugs and antibiotics, putting to risk the lives of HIV-positive people at risk, a health official has confirmed.

Chinhoyi and Kadoma are the worst-hit districts.

A survey conducted by NewsDay revealed that the Integrated TB and HIV Centre in Kadoma, which is the biggest referral centre for people living with HIV in the gold-mining district is only left with three weeks’ supply of Aba-lam, a critical second line ARV.

On the other hand, the centre has completely run out of cotrimoxazole, an antibiotic taken by HIV patients on both first and second line treatment. Patients are sourcing antibiotics from local pharmacies, which are demanding foreign currency.

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It is government policy to distribute these drugs for free.

Chinhoyi faces a similar situation, with health centres left with less than a month’s supply of the life-prolonging drugs.

Stella Manyere, head of the Kadoma Integrated TB and HIV Centre said it was the first time that the institution had faced problems.

“When a person living with HIV comes here, we normally give them drugs that can last them up to three months, because most of them are very mobile as they are artisanal miners and cannot afford to keep coming back in a short spaces of time due to the nature of their work. However, our Aba-lam stock can no longer last a month and it is an essential second line drug.

On the other hand, we no longer have Cotri in stock,” she said.

Manyere said the institution had alerted the provincial health office in Chinhoyi and were told that the drugs were unavailable.

“The person whom we phoned is now at Natpharm in Harare, where the drugs come from, revealed that the centre does not have the drugs and is waiting for the next shipment of the medicines. We are not aware as to when that will be. We are now anxious because there will be a serious problem if we run dry on the second line drug,” she said.

A total of 5 102 people living with HIV are on anti-retroviral treatment at the Kadoma Integrated TB and HIV Centre. Out of these, 199 are now on the second line stage.

National Aids Council (NAC) is mandated with purchasing ARVs, using the Aids Levy Fund and hands them over to Natpharm for distribution.

NAC spokesperson Madeline Dube, said her organisation was faced with an acute challenge of foreign currency to acquire the drugs, hence the shortages. She indicated that efforts to jettison relevant authorities to act on the problem including First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, who is the health ambassador had hit a brick wall as the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe continues to fail to provide forex.

Dube also highlighted that the introduction of the interbank market had also created another challenge as it eroded the US$23 million meant for the acquisition of the drugs.