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COVID-19 Could Lead to HIV Drug Shortages, Price Hikes, Says UNAIDS

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The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, is sounding the alarm on potential shortages of antiretroviral medications during the COVID-19 epidemic. 

In a Monday announcement, UNAIDS pointed to a survey that found disruptions in the supply chain could lead to not only shortages, but price increases on available drugs, specifically cheaper generic varieties. 

"The UNAIDS survey discovered that the lockdowns and border closures imposed to stop COVID-19 are impacting both the production of medicines and their distribution, potentially leading to increases in their cost and to supply issues, including stock-outs over the next two months," the announcement read. 

UNAIDS officials are especially concerned with how low- and middle-income nations deal with the potential shortfall and price hikes. UNAIDS, which is a joint effort of 11 different UN groups, urged governments to get proactive.

“It is vital that countries urgently make plans now to mitigate the possibility and impacts of higher costs and reduced availability of antiretroviral medicines,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, in a statement. “I call on countries and buyers of HIV medicines to act swiftly in order to ensure that everyone who is currently on treatment continues to be on it, saving lives and stopping new HIV infections.”

There are over 24 million HIV-positive people on antiretroviral meds, according to numbers compiled last year. UNAIDS believes a disruption in drug availability could lead to the deaths of 500,000 people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.

UNAIDS pointed to reduced air and sea transport and lockdowns and physical distancing as the main culprits in potential shortages; there are less people to make the drugs and less options for getting them to people around the world. 

"It has been estimated that a 10–25% increase in [overhead and transport costs] could result in an annual increase in the final cost of exported antiretroviral medicines from India alone of between US$ 100 million and US$ 225 million," according to UNAIDS. India produces about 80 percent of all generic antiretroviral drugs.

As UNAIDS wait for governments to address the problem, they have committed $1 billion to help nations procure the necessary medications.  

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