The financial crisis in Venezuela is creating a critical shortage of HIV medications that affects thousands of patients. To make matters worse, the government has imposed import fees and other obstacles for antiviral medications that many low-income HIV patients depend on to prevent life-threatening co-infections.
When a person is diagnosed with HIV, they must take antiviral medications to prevent the virus from multiplying in the blood. If a patient takes their HIV medications daily, the viral load or the amount of HIV present in the blood is suppressed, giving the person the ability to live a healthier life. For those living with HIV in Venezuela, however, not having access to antivirals is triggering preventable health complications.
Access to HIV Medications
A recent report by the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation indicates that the country only has 15% of all of the medications it needs for residents. This shortage is even greater for patients living with HIV as supplies for antivirals was set to run out at the end of June. Political turmoil and an inflation rate of 720% have put some essentials such as food out of reach for even the middle class. To put the financial crisis in perspective, the cost of a dozen eggs in Venezuela can cost upwards of $150 USD. Antivirals such as Isentress are priced at around $1,700 USD for a prescription fill, which it makes it nearly impossible for those in Venezuela to access treatment. It is estimated that a total of 61,000 patients living with HIV, many of whom are low-income gay males, are affected by antiviral shortage.
Isentress HIV Medication
The HIV medication shortage and the obstacles set by the Venezuelan government prevents nonprofits and other AIDS organizations from donating medications. For example, a donation of Isentress that would treat patients for two months is currently stuck at the border because the Venezuelan government won’t grant import permits for the life-saving antivirals. The longer patients with HIV forgo antivirals, the higher the risk for infections such as tuberculosis and the development of cancerous tumors. Regional hospitals and clinics simply do not have the resources to treat such co-infections, which can put a death sentence on those living with HIV. According to a recent report, the World Health Organization is now handling a purchase of $32 million in AIDS medications after Venezuela’s government failed to place the order. The supply of AIDS medications, however, is not expected to reach Venezuela until September.