Patients and their consultants are concerned about a rushed switch from the current to new HIV treatment, following a shortage of medicine stocks in Malta in recent days.

Last week, the shortage forced some HIV patients to rely on the kindness of others who could spare some of their own medicine.

Manufacturers have been phasing out the kind of medication that has been provided by the government to HIV patients for years, Times of Malta has been told.

On Sunday, the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement was told that last week’s shortage was the result of the “situation created by Brexit and unexpected delays in a London airport”. Stocks of the medicine are expected to arrive this week while enough stock has been secured to treat those who currently have no medication at all, it said.

Meanwhile, a health ministry spokesperson said the government is investing €3 million in more advanced HIV treatment which should be reaching patients in the coming weeks. 

We’d need to see each patient’s history, sit down with them and take a professional decision

But a consultant at Mater Dei Hospital said switching patients’ current treatment to a new regimen should be gradual and could take months, especially in the circumstances.

“We have been waiting for a change in medication for years and we cannot just prescribe new treatment overnight because we have run out of the current one,” the consultant said.

“We’d need to see each patient’s history, sit down with them and take a professional decision, and then follow up on the impact it has on their health. We don’t have the capacity to do so as we are also inundated with work related to COVID.”

Consultants see about 500 people on HIV treatment biannually. About 50 rely completely on the treatment that ran out of stock last week.

The consultant at Mater Dei Hospital said there was no protocol yet on how patients were going to be switched to the new medication.

MGRM spokesperson Joe Grima welcomed the change in treatment, something the NGO has been advocating for years. However, he voiced the same concern.

For some, he noted, tests needed to be carried out to make sure the medication was effective against the particular HIV strain in their body. 

Another important part of the process, which also relies on the gradual phasing out of the current mediation, is the monitoring of side effects, especially considering that the disease is potentially life-threatening.

MGRM is urging people with HIV to speak up.

“We do not say this lightly. The HIV+ community has got to start speaking up and start speaking together,” the NGO said.

“Do not wait for someone else to speak to us and hope for the best. You need to find the courage to speak up for your own rights yourself.”

HIV patients had the same right for medication as any other patient receiving treatment for any other condition in the country, MGRM said.

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