‘ARV pullout, a wake up call’

National, Normal

THE United Nations’ recent announcement to cease its Global Fund’s HIV/AIDS support for PNG is a wake up call for the National Government, National AIDS Council Secretariat (NACS) chairman Sir Peter Barter said.
“The funding for anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment had been provided solely by the Global Fund in the past 15 years and it was time the Government took the responsibility for HIV/AIDS in PNG, particularly those living with the virus (PLHIVs),” he said in a statement yesterday.
Sir Peter said he was concerned about the plight of PLHIVs when PNG missed out through its round nine application for continued Global Fund assistance for HIV/AIDS .
Although he could not say why PNG missed out, Sir Peter was adamant that the Health Department and NACS would take urgent measures to secure financial support to provide drugs for PLHIVs until the next budget .
“We must avoid PLHIV deaths due to lack of treatment,” Sir Peter said.
At the council meeting last November, Sir Peter advised the Health Department and the acting director of NACS to seek adequate funding elsewhere.
He stressed that all possible sources including AusAID, UNDP, ADB, UNAIDS, Continuation Facility of Global Fund and most importantly the PNG Government must be approached.
“The NACS has already prepared an urgent K6 million submission to the Planning Department to secure funds in next year’s national budget.
 “The other components of PNG’s HIV programme, which include provision of test kits, human resources, training, voluntary counselling testing (VCTs) clinics, condoms are critical but not as urgent and could be planned for and included in the preparations of the 2011 and beyond,” he said
Sir Peter assured the more than 7,000 people currently on ARV treatment that “there are enough drugs available to cater to their needs until August”.
He cautioned that the seemingly low number of recorded adult and children PLHIVs was due to the small number of certified VCTs (250 out of 2,000 health facilities nationwide) and the slow acceptance of testing.
“This number will exponentially grow with an increase in the number of VCT clinics and the increasing breakdown of fear and bias which will result in increased testing.
“This is an unavoidable situation and it must be catered for under any circumstance,” he added.
As for the projected number of PLHIVs over the next four years, Sir Peter indicated that the best estimates which have been provided by Health officials indicated that the number would increase by about 5,000 to 6,000 annually.
He cautioned that even this might be a conservative figure given the present trends.
The annual cost of first line ARV drugs was about K540 per patient and increasing while the cost of second line drugs was almost K4,000 per patient.
“While the buying of these drugs was done through the Unicef and WHO procurement arrangements, the Health should buy the drugs direct from the cheapest and most efficient sources, including drug manufacturers.
“We must minimise, if not avoid, the usual bureaucratic, WTO, patents and manufacturing wrangling involved in ordering, purchasing, storage and distribution of these drugs. I will not tolerate any wrangling on this as PLHIVs lives are at stake,” he warned.
He also cautioned PLHIVs not to break their daily treatment regime as their bodies would develop resistance to the drugs which could be fatal. 
“We are doing all we can to ensure that this matter is dealt with thoroughly and we need all the help we can get from Government departments, development partners, implementing stakeholders, PLHIVs and the public,” he added.