Venezuela is running short on HIV meds—and places to turn for help

On top of its currency being in free fall for 3 years running, empty shelves at supermarkets, and electricity rationing, Venezuela has a serious shortage of medicines, including life-saving anti-HIV drugs. This led a network of Venezuelans living with HIV to seek “urgent humanitarian aid” in June 2016 from the Geneva, Switzerland–based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But because the World Bank classifies Venezuela as a high-income nation, the Global Fund on 18 January denied the request. “As an agency relying itself on donations from multiple stakeholders, the Global Fund is not in a position to grant any exceptions from its rules,” wrote Executive Director Mark Dybul and chair of the board Norbert Hauser.

An estimated 110,000 people in 2015 were living with HIV in Venezuela, and at least 63,000 of them have started antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, says Feliciano Reyna Ganteaume, whose Caracas-based nonprofit Acción Solidaria supplies HIV-infected people with ARVs. “[The situation] is much worse than one can describe,” he says. When the government does take action, drug orders are placed late and not paid for on time, causing interruptions that have lasted more than 3 months. “There is not even one month without our receiving complaints of lack of one or more ARVs from one or more Venezuelan states,” he says. Reagents for the tests needed to monitor people on treatment also are in short supply.

A petition at change.org is urging the Global Fund to bend its policy toward high-income countries, given the extreme situation. The policy has previously led to cuts in HIV/AIDS funding to several Eastern European countries, a move heavily criticized by advocates in those countries. As international assistance for HIV/AIDS has steadily dropped over the past few years, the Global Fund has pushed harder on governments to foot their own bills.

The petition notes that in addition to a “severe stockout of antiretroviral treatment,” Venezuela does not have enough condoms, HIV test kits, or basic supplies to diagnose and treat tuberculosis—a major risk for people living with the AIDS virus. “This is not a political petition and does not seek to establish a position on the current status of the government,” it says. “This is a humanitarian call to avoid the genocide of Venezuelans living with HIV.”

The Global Fund leaders—who notably took 6 months to reply to the original urgent request for help—wrote that they had “liaised with our partner network to see who might be in a position to help.”

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