69,000 newborns at risk due to ARVs shortage

Thursday June 20 2019

About 69,000 children born to HIV-positive mothers risk getting infected due to a shortage of some antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


About 69,000 children born to HIV-positive mothers risk getting infected due to a shortage of some antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

The drugs are given as prophylaxis in syrup form to such newborns to prevent them from contracting the virus. They also reduce the amount of virus in the body.


Medical personnel at several public hospitals who spoke to the Nation on the condition of anonymity said the shortage began about four months ago.

They said the situation is dire, and that if no intervention is made urgently, things could turn disastrous. The administration of ARVs to newborns without HIV is meant to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission (perinatal acquisition).

“Parents come to the hospital for drugs, only to be turned away due to a shortage,” said a doctor in Kisauni, Mombasa County “What do they do to protect their children from being infected? You tell me, if you were in their shoes, what would you do.”


The drugs, Nevirapine and Zidovudine, have been missing in a number of public health facilities across the country, causing concern among health workers that infected mothers will not be able to prevent their children from getting the virus.

According to the 2018 guidelines on using ARVs for treating and preventing HIV in Kenya, all HIV-exposed babies should receive infant ARV prophylaxis, consisting of six weeks of Zidovudine (AZT) and Nevirapine (NVP), and thereafter continued doses of Nevirapine until six weeks after complete termination of breastfeeding.


The Nation learnt Thursday that there are shortages in several counties, with being Nairobi, Mombasa and Uasin Gishu the most affected.

“What is actually in short supply, or rather, completely out of stock, are the ARV prophylaxis we give to children,” said a nurse at a Nairobi hospital. “They ran out of stock four months ago and since then we have had to make excuses to the mothers when they visit. About a week ago we received a batch of 20 bottles, against 400 mothers.”

The situation is the same in Mombasa County, where a source in the Health department blamed the national government, saying it is a procurement issue and the relevant agencies had failed to stock the drug for close to three months.

“We make strides in reducing HIV, then we are hit with this shortage.” the source lamented.

Additional reporting by Edith Chepng'eno