A human rights NGO based in the Congolese capital Brazzzaville has denounced the suspension of antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatments for thousands of HIV/AIDS patients in Congo.
"As we speak, Congo is totally lacking ARVs. We’ve been to enquire at the Outpatient Treatment Centre [which supports patients]: It has no Atripla, Efavirenz or Nevirapine,” Pan African Association Thomas Sankara (APTS) chairman Germain Cephas Ewangui told IRIN.
"The situation could cause a rise in the number of deaths, the development of resistance [to ARVs administered later] and the recurrence and development of opportunistic infections. The situation is serious: we are facing very serious violations of human rights and particularly the right to life," said Ewangui.
"It is indeed a form of irresponsibility that we equate to an organized crime, requiring not only administrative sanctions, but also... prosecution because the situation is serious, intolerable and unacceptable," Ewangui added.
According to the Ministry of Health and Population, some 16,310 patients in Congo were receiving ARVs, while 38,500 are waiting to get them.
The ministry acknowledged that ARV treatment had stopped. "There was a malfunction. There was a break in the supply and distribution chain, but the situation is being corrected," said Executive Secretary of the National Council for the Fight against AIDS (CNLS) Marie-Francke Puruehnce.
"The situation should not lead to declarations and denunciations," said Puruehnce.
A consultant from the Ministry of Health, who requested anonymity, told IRIN: "Such failures sometimes happen once or twice a year. But they do not last long."
Officially Congo spends 2-5 billion CFA francs (US$4-10 million) a year on providing free treatment to HIV/AIDS patients.
According to the ministry, HIV prevalence fell from 4.2 percent in 2003 to 3.2 percent in 2011. The prevalence of pregnant women with HIV/AIDS fell from 3.4 percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent in 2012.
Congo, where per capita income in 2011 was estimated at $4,600, committed in 2001 to allocate 15 percent of the state budget to health, but it is currently earmarking only about 9 percent, according to the World Bank.
Interruption of ARV therapy risks patients developing resistance to the drugs and can hasten progress to AIDS and death.