@City_PressThe Democratic Alliance will ask Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to explain whether the contracts for the supply of antiretroviral medicine were signed on time after it was reported that hospitals were running out of stock. Wilmot James, the DA’s shadow minister of health, today questioned the department’s efficiency in managing the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs. James’ comments come after Motsoaledi held a briefing yesterday to reassure the country that there was no shortage of the Fixed-Dose Combination (FDC) drug or other antiretroviral treatment, despite reports that in KwaZulu-Natal there was a shortage of Abacavir, a drug used to treat children. James said Motsoaledi’s denial of a shortage of ARVs was contrary to the claims by the Medicines Control Council that the department had underestimated the demands for some of the ARVs and, in some cases, submitted the contracts for the drugs’ supply late. James said the DA consulted with the Medicines Control Council and claimed that the council had accused the department of delaying the production of ARVs by submitting the signed contracts late. “Motsoaledi has blamed shortages of antiretrovirals on ‘circumstances beyond our control’. The Medicines Control Council, however, is sceptical about whether the department submitted the contracts on time and if they had underestimated the amount of drugs needed,” said James, adding that he would submit Parliamentary questions to ascertain whether the contracts for these medicines were submitted “timeously”. Yesterday, Motsoaledi told reporters in Pretoria that the tender for the distribution of the FDC drug was worth R14 billion and that stock was available, contrary to reports that a woman in KwaZulu-Natal had not received her ARVs for some time. Because 30% of the world’s population being treated for HIV lived in South Africa, the ARV roll-out and treatment programme in the country was the biggest and most intense, said Motsoaledi, rubbishing reports of any shortage of ARVs. But the DA expressed concern that Motsoaledi blamed some pharmaceutical suppliers for lacking the necessary “active compounds needed to make some of the drugs” and accused the department of shifting blame. “The Medicines Control Council rightly points out that if the department has submitted contracts late or underestimated the demand for the drugs, this raised serious questions about the efficacy of the department. “It is more than likely that these shortages, which put the health of children at risk, is a direct result of the departments’ failure to plan properly. The Medical Control Council is itself sceptical of the minister’s excuses and thinks that the shortages are due to a failure to plan,” said James. Motsoaledi said the story of a woman from KwaZulu-Natal came as a surprise to the department and it was found that the woman was not registered at the clinic she claimed to have been turned away from, apparently due to ARV shortage. “I spent the whole day in the office investigating these widespread reports. I also fielded many phone calls from worried South Africans, stakeholders like doctors association and patient groups, most of whom were confused and wanted to understand what was going on because some said that what they were reading in the media was not what they were experiencing in their facilities. At no stage did any company report that the shortages were related to nonpayment of ARVs despite us asking them directly,” said Motsoaledi.