Government regulates ARV supply

The Republic of Congo (ROC) has conducted an audit of all pharmaceutical laboratories in the country in a bid to resolve a shortage of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for HIV-positive patients, the government has announced.

In a statement issued on Friday at the end of the first steering committee meeting of the National Council for the Fight Against AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or CNLS, the government said it "started the payment of all the invoices concerning the supply of the ARVs and made provisions which are essential so that the situation is never repeated".

The minister of health and population, Alphonse Gando, said that the ARVs issue was the first item he handled when he took office in January.

"It had to be treated urgently taking into consideration its importance," he said.

A pharmaceutical firm, SAI Pharma, which provides ARVs to Congo suspended the supply a few months ago, claiming it was owed more than €300,000 (US $386,100).

Following this suspension, the Association for the Defence of Consumers' Rights, known by the French acronym ACDDC, wrote to the prime minister on 1 February, urging him to respect the government's commitment to combat HIV/AIDS.

In the letter, the association said ARV suppliers faced a lot of difficulties getting paid.

Efforts by PlusNews to get comments on the issue failed as the government authorities contacted, as well as officials in charge of centres dispensing ARVs, declined to comment.

However, people living with HIV/AIDS acknowledged that the situation had become desperate.

The CNLS executive secretary, Marie Franck Purhuence, had called a news conference and denied that there was a shortage of ARVs.

Since 2003, the country has been importing ARVs for some 2,500 AIDS patients who receive treatment at centres in the capital, Brazzaville, and Point-Noire. The two principal cities in the country account for 80 percent of the 100,000 HIV/AIDS patients, according to official estimates.

The improvement of access to care for people living with HIV, especially access to ARVs, is one of the challenges the government faces in its fight against the pandemic.

In June 2003, the country launched a programme known as the Initiative Congolaise d'Accès aux Antirétroviraux (ICAARV) to improve treatment and care of HIV/AIDS patients. Since then, the price of ARV treatment has fallen to between 5,000 and 20,000 francs CFA ($9 and $36) per month, compared with 300,000-400,000 francs ($550-$740) previously.