A devastated 22-year-old woman pleaded with clinics in Carletonville on the West Rand not to gamble with HIV-positive people’s lives, as they were receiving half of their prescribed amount of medication.
The woman said she had experienced this twice: “Last month, I went to Khutsong main clinic to collect my antiretrovirals [ARVs] and I was puzzled when the nurse handed me a container that was stuffed mostly with toilet paper. I only noticed that when I got home and, unfortunately, I didn’t have taxi fare to go back to the clinic. Sadly, the pills were finished before my next visit,” she said.
She said that, last week, she returned the clinic and was puzzled when she again received insufficient medication.
“Usually, we get a prescription from the nurses, which we take to the pharmacy that’s part of the clinic. But this time around, the container was again stuffed with toilet paper.
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“We usually get about 30 pills to last us a whole month. I asked the nurse whether there was a shortage of medication, because it was the second time this was happening. I also wanted to know what would happen when the pills were finished before time, because last month I had to wait for my next clinic visit. The only thing she said was that nothing had changed and I’d have to wait for my next scheduled date. This is very frustrating and scary because I don’t know how it will affect my health.”
She said she did not know whether there was a shortage of ARVs in the province or whether rumours that some nurses were selling the pills were true.
“They’re gambling with our lives and I hope the Gauteng department of health acts swiftly,” said the woman.
HIV activist Thami Jim said that what the clinic was allegedly doing was wrong.
“The clinics are gambling with people’s lives, as patients’ immune systems are now going up and down, making it easy for those who’re on medication to develop opportunistic viruses like tuberculosis. Also, their viral loads [will be affected] because now it’s as if they’re defaulting on their medication,” he said.
Treatment Action Campaign national chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala said that patients who received a short supply of medicine at their facilities were forced to come back frequently for refills.
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“As public healthcare users, most of us don’t have the means to constantly return to the facility. As an organisation, we’ve seen that, for those who’re employed, a short supply of medication means they have to be away from work often – and that could lead to them losing their jobs,” she said.
Department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said there was no shortage of ARVs in the area.
Tshabalala said that in the second state of health report by the group, Ritshidze, it called for the provincial department of health to implement ARV refills of between three and six months. Ritshidze (meaning Save our lives in Tshivenda) is a project developed by people living with HIV and activists to hold the South African government and aid agencies accountable for improving overall HIV and tuberculosis service delivery.
However, provincial department of health spokesperson Kwara Kekana denied that there was a shortage of ARVs in the area: “Health workers can’t issue incomplete medication to patients because medication comes in sealed packaging. Patients are advised to only accept sealed packages of treatment. The district will follow this up with the patients.”
Kekana suggested that patients who alleged that individuals were selling ARvs for private gain open a criminal case.