People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Manipur lament the shortage of ART and said they spend more money on travelling to get Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) than the cost of the treatment. Expressing their anguish, several PLHIV came out in the open and staged a protest in Imphal on Monday.
A PLHIV says he comes to Imphal four times a month from Saikhul to get ART, spending Rs 300 per day on travel fare, amounting to over Rs 2,000 per month at times, which is more than ART price of Rs 1,500.
In January, due to shortage of ART, he came five times to the JNIMS ART centre to get ART and again, this month too.
On Monday, while he went to take ART at JNIMS ART centre, the authorities informed about the shortage of ART and told him to buy it from a pharmacy. He went to a pharmacy but ART was not available at the pharmacy.
Not only him, other PLHIV also faces the same problem. They approached the Manipur Network of Positive People office to help them get ART.
Another PLHIV woman said that she went to RIMS ART centre to get ART for her children and herself but ART was not available in the RIMS ART Centre too.
Helpless, but holding on to hope, several PLHIV came together and staged a protest in front of Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP) office at Nongmeibung Nambram Chuthek, demanding the authorities concerned to provide affordable ART in time or "kill them".
The protest demonstration was launched under the initiative of Imphal East Network of Positive People (IENP+) with the support from various community organizations, including the Community Network for Empowerment (CONE), Kripa Society, Care Foundation, Manipur Network of Positive People (MNP+) and Social Awareness Service Organization (SASO).
They said the protest will continue out until a positive response from the concerned authorities of the government is received and a permanent solution is brought about.
Kangabam Anandi, secretary of Imphal East Network of Positive People, said she asked the Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MACS) about the shortage of ART, but the MACS official informed her that the ART was deposited at the centres last night (Sunday).
Although most of the patients have been buying the medicines from the market and meeting their medical needs, the drug has now dried out in the market as well and there are patients who have missed their medicine doses for five to seven days.
Shortage of ART has become a case of serious concern it is being taken as second line drugs by the PLHIV and irregular consumption of the drugs could develop resistance to the drug and ultimately can lead to mortality. Under such a situation, the moot question is who will be responsible for the consequences arising out of the issue.
With antiretroviral (ARV) drugs made available to people living with HIV (PLHIV) under MACS coming under constant stock out and shortage issues of late, people living with HIV who are currently under ART staged the sit-in protest demonstration, she said.
Meanwhile, during the protest, MACS officials arrived at the protest site and informed that 1,500 tablets of paediatric dispersible tablets will arrive from Nagaland and will be dispensed from Tuesday. But these tablets will not be able to meet the requirements of the total number of people who are in need of this medicine.
Moreover, the question of the ethical rightness of paediatric drug dispersal to adults has been raised by the protesters during the sit-in protest.
As per the data received from MACS, a total of 13,688 people living with HIV are currently on antiretroviral therapy (ART) from 13 ART centres of the state.
Of the total people on ART, 13,106 of them are on first line, 575 are on second line, while seven of them are on third line ART treatment.
With the initiation of ART in the state in 2004, it has enabled all people living with HIV to live a healthy and dignified life and helped to reduce HIV transmission to a considerable level. But unfortunately, since June 2022, the issue of ART shortage has hit the state hard and the people on ART are those who are hurt the most.
It is also informed that though the state government has made necessary arrangements in this regard and succeeded in making available all regimens of ART to the people, there is still shortage of Abacavir 600 mg and Lamivudine 300 mg fixed dose combination.
Nevertheless, MACS has been providing paediatric dispersible medicine of the same regimen to adults and trying to fill the gap. But the situation worsened with the said regimen (Abacavir 600 mg & Lamivudine 300 mg) going completely out of stock since the beginning of February 2023 and people are informed to buy the medicines themselves.