ARV shortage threatens children’s lives

South Africa is experiencing yet another shortage of ARVs. (Photo: Jean-Marc Giboux)

Parents in Msogwaba, Mpumalanga are furious because they’ve been unable to get antiretroviral (ARV) medication for four months at Msogwaba Clinic.

“It’s painful to see my kids dying before my eyes and I can’t do anything to save them,” says Busisiwe Ngobeni. Both her children have been without ARV treatment due to shortages at the Msogwaba Clinic.

Departmental spokesperson, Dumisani Malamule says there are ARV drugs available in facilities across the province, but patients are being given alternatives to what they usually use. But members of the community say this is not the case and they are not being offered any alternative. 

“If what Malamule is saying is true about alternative ARVs that our children should be given, how come Msogwaba Clinic is turning us away without ARVs? [Staff] keep telling us that we must come tomorrow and check if they have ARVs in stock,” says Nokwanda Tsela.

However, Malamule says their office hasn’t received any complaint about the shortage of ARV drugs in their facilities.

Finding other means

Desperate parents have been forced to go to nearby communities to beg for ARVs from other parents whose children are on treatment. 

Speaking to OurHealth, Fikile Zulu (47) says she and her 10-year-old daughter have always received ARVs at Msogwaba Clinic, but they’ve been unable to do so recently. “The situation is frustrating and we are left struggling alone. The clinic management is refusing to tell us what is going on.”

Nurses at the clinic were also unsure when they would receive supplies again. 

“Even though I know we shouldn’t share treatment, I have been giving my daughter half of my ARVs every day for the last three months because I don’t want her to die,” Zulu adds.

Another patient, Busisiwe Ngobeni, says clinic officials have told them repeatedly there is nothing they could do. She has two children, aged 13 and 14, who are both on ARVs – Ngobeni is concerned about their deteriorating health. 

“I am worried because my 14-year-old is losing weight, and is constantly sick with diarrhoea and nausea. I am afraid that they might die before we get their treatment. To keep them alive, I have been asking treatment from other moms in Kanyamazane who have kids with HIV. But I know they will eventually stop giving me because their kids will suffer because we are taking from their monthly supply,” she explains. “It’s painful to see my kids dying before my eyes and I can’t do anything to save them.”

Colile Ndlovu has a 13-year-old son. She tells OurHealth: “When we were initiated on how to use ARV therapy, we were told the importance of adherence and that it is a life-long commitment. If we stop [taking the treatment], we will likely get sicker.”

International issue 

According to the Department of Health, there is a global shortage of ARV medication, which has resulted in supply challenges. “The contracted supplier is acquiring limited supplies of these agents using alternative methods,” the department explains in a statement released in June. 

“However, due to the current supply constraints, rational use of these medicines and appropriate monitoring is recommended by all provinces and healthcare facilities until the supply is fully restored. This may include implementing measures such as the redistribution of stock to facilities in need or the provision of a lower quantity of stock than usual to the patients, like issuing only a month’s supply at a time.”

But parents remain embittered. 

Zulu says: “Just imagine waiting from 07:30am to 4:00pm, and you’re told there is no treatment for your child. How do you tell your child again that there is no treatment when you promised her that today you will get the treatment?” – Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.


  • Cynthia Maseko

    Cynthia Maseko joined OurHealth in 2013 as a citizen journalist working in Mpumalanga. She is passionate about women’s health issues and joined Treatment Action Campaign branch as a volunteer after completing her matric. As an activist she has been involved with Equal Treatment, Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV and also with Marie Stopes Clinic’s project Blue Star dealing with the promotion of safe abortions and HIV education.

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