A shortage of HIV medication in Malta has forced some patients into a situation where they are relying on the kindness and stockpile of others in order to take essential medication to keep a life-threatening disease at bay.
HIV awareness NGO Checkpoint Malta said it was grateful that a number of people living with HIV had contacted them and offered whatever medication they could spare after a shortage left a number of patients scrambling to find doses.
In a Facebook post Checkpoint Malta president Chris Vincent Jung said that while the spirit of charity was admirable, the situation was not sustainable and the situation needed to be remedied quickly.
Jung added that NGOs have been met with situations of people who have run out of medication and have nowhere to turn to as hospitals and pharmacies fail to provide more information on the matter.
“Luckily, we have a strong network and a strong coalition, so people have offered amounts of their own supply to assist,” Jung said.
“So some people living with HIV are reduced to basically scavenge their own medication. Staying on medication is the key to staying undetectable, which is what makes HIV untransmittable. Being untransmittable is key to reach our common goal to a world without AIDS.”
“As much as it warms my heart to see the community helping each other in a crisis, this should not be the case for something this fundamental, especially in a EU country.”
Checkpoint Malta is encouraging anyone experiencing a shortage in their HIV medication to get in touch. Additionally, people who have Raltegravir, Kivexa and Efavirenz that they can spare may also contact the group.
NGOs began sounding the alarm of a shortage on Friday, after reports that people had encountered difficulty in procuring their treatment began to come in on Wednesday.
While different patients are prescribed different drugs to treat HIV, it seemed that there were issues with more than one supply line to Malta.
In a joint statement on Friday, six NGOs lambasted the treatment of HIV patients “like second class citizens”.
“Had this been a shortage of chemotherapy or diabetes medication, it would be nothing short of a national scandal,” the statement said.
The group added that a lack of regular medication would allow HIV to attack a person’s immune system and increase their vulnerability to other illnesses, including COVID-19.
Additionally they criticized the government for its “long winded and bureaucratic” approach in transitioning to more modern HIV medication.
“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 life saving medication at any one point,” the group said.
A health ministry spokesperson told Times of Malta the government was investing €3 million in more advanced HIV treatments which would be reaching patients in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the ministry would be taking "all necessary steps" to ensure patients receive the necessary care, the spokesperson said.
However, a spokesperson for HIV Malta, an arm of the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, said authorities had been warned of outdated medication for years.
“It is not ideal to change a patient's treatment overnight without appropriate follow-up and consultation,” the spokesperson said.
“For some patients, resistance tests need to be carried out in order to make sure that the medication is effective against the particular strain of HIV in a person's body. This is especially so when people have had their medication stopped for several days in a row, ever since this crisis started.”
The spokesperson added that they were told that medication had been ready to be supplied as early as September, however the bureaucratic and lengthy process of changing the formulary had allowed current medication to run out completely before the new one was rolled out.
“We have been warning the Ministry that the current medication was becoming outdated for a number of years,” the spokesperson said.
“The medication was so severely outdated that manufacturers have been phasing them out for a number of years now, leading to scarce supplies.”