The Malta Gay Rights’ Movement has warned about a severe shortage of HIV medication in the country and urged anyone affected to get in touch.
A spokesperson for the NGO said that the situation is “out of control” and that it will have severe repercussions on public health.
In a one-line statement, the health ministry admitted it was still waiting for the full order of the drug to arrive "later this month" but said patients were meanwhile being "supplied with enough supply to meet their demands".
MGRM spokesperson Joe Grima said the organisation had first started receiving reports that HIV medication was unavailable on December 9.
He said the organisation had reached out to both the health ministry and the parliamentary secretariat for equality and reforms about the shortage.
“Parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar has acknowledged our concerns and stated she will reach out to figure out what the problem is. As for the health ministry, we’ve been waiting for a response for the past two days,” Grima said.
Patients diagnosed with HIV are prescribed cocktails of drugs known as antiretrovirals which reduce the risk of HIV transmission, keep the virus in check and help sustain patients' immune systems.
Without treatment, HIV can develop into Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which can be fatal.
Drugs prescribed vary from one patient to another and MGRM said it appears several types of medication are currently unavailable.
Activists have in the past slammed medicine regimes available in Malta as "archaic" and noted that patients here must take a variety of pills, despite single-pill alternatives being available overseas.
“Three people with three different medication regimens have already contacted us, meaning the problem is not limited to one supply line," Grima said.
Going even one or two days without medication is a "nerve-wracking" situation for patients, as the virus quickly developed resistance to medication, he added.
He also explained how a batch of the virus which has built up resistance in one person’s body can transmit a more resistant version of the virus to someone else.
“If, for example, the virus has built up 30% resistance to HIV medication in the body of person A, then person A might transmit the virus to person B, who will now have to deal with virus cells that already have 30% resistance,” Grima added.
MGRM is not the only association to receive word of HIV medication shortages, he said: fellow NGO Allied Rainbow Communities had also received similar reports, he said.
‘HIV patients are treated like second-class citizens’
In a separate statement, six human rights NGOs slammed the governmentfor “doubling down on an attitude where HIV patients are treated like second-class citizens.”
“Had this been a shortage of chemotherapy or diabetes medication, it would be nothing short of a national scandal,” the organisations said.
In the statement, the organizations also added that “the lack of regular medication allows HIV to start attacking a person’s immune system, increasing their susceptibility to various other illnesses including COVID-19.”
The group also lambasted the government for its “longwinded and bureaucratic” approach in relation to a transition to cutting-edge medication for HIV treatment.
“This transition to new types of medication might be one of the reasons behind the current shortage; however, a well-planned transition should have included a phasing-out plan that guaranteed that nobody was left without their lifesaving medication at any one point,” the group said.
The signatories included HIV Malta, Checkpoint Malta, Aditus foundation, the Allied Rainbow Communities, Drachma, and LGBTI+ Gozo.