AIDS Crisis Threatens Uganda, As A Shortage Of Essential Medicines Puts Thousands Of Lives At Risk

An AIDS crisis is developing in Uganda, as the country has run out of Septrin, an essential antibiotic given to all those affected by HIV, putting thousands of lives at risk. Septrin is a vital preventative medicine, as those who suffer from HIV have weakened immune systems, and the antibiotic is essential for warding off various infections that cause life-threatening illnesses, such as pneumonia. Uganda relies on the Global Fund, the United States’ emergency aid program for AIDS relief, to provide them Septrin, but a lack of funding has delayed its arrival, ultimately jeopardising the effort to wipe out AIDS by 2030.

An estimated 1.6 million people living in Uganda have HIV. For John Salamuka, the Kamuli district coordinator for people living with HIV, their future looks bleak. For people living with HIV, he comments, “the moment you stop taking [Septrin], the body cannot resist opportunistic infections.” This means that many will soon succumb to expensive and hard to treat infections like malaria. Moreover, Septrin is also a “first-line regimen for many conditions in people who do not live with HIV,” according to public health expert Milly Katana, so the prolonged stock-out which began five months ago affects “all people of Uganda.” The tragedy is that Septrin is an extremely cheap antibiotic, and could theoretically be produced in Uganda, but “poor administration” in the Ugandan Ministry of Health has prevented this from being the case. The country is not currently “fulfilling its constitutional responsibility” to its citizens, whose lives are, as a result, dependent on international aid.

HIV affects 7.3% of the adult population of Uganda. Activists have rightfully been criticising the government for not investing more in their effort to tackle HIV, and for not taking responsibility of the crisis at all. Indeed, according to Katana, the “stock-outs of essential medicines is a ping-pong game in Uganda, with no-one wanting to take responsibility for their actions.” Many Ugandans are low-income earners who cannot afford Septrin on a daily basis. In unnecessarily increasing their susceptibility to opportunistic infections by failing to provide such an essential medicine, the government’s inaction is failing its citizens basic right to health, and for many – life in general.

HIV is a global concern. The virus is widely believed to have originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo when a pathogen, now known as the human immunodeficiency virus, crossed from chimpanzees to humans in the 1920s. The AIDS crisis officially began on June 5th, 1981, when the US Centre for Disease Control noticed unusual clusters of rare and aggressive cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma, and cases of pneumonia in homosexual men. The virus has since then swept the globe in a devastating pandemic, spreading fear, stigma, and leaving an estimated 35 million deaths in its wake. Early on in the crisis, many victims suffered agonising and terrifying deaths within a few years of contracting the infection, as the virus destroyed specialist white blood cells in their immune systems, rendering victims highly susceptible to infections and some cancers. The advent of anti-retroviral drugs suppressing the virus’ activity has significantly improved patients’ quality of life, and those with access to a regimen of essential medicines can expect a near-normal lifespan. However, a lack of any of these medicines, including the first-line antibiotic Septrin, has a significant impact on the patients’ ability to fight HIV, and consequently, their ability to live a normal life.

The lack of essential antibiotic Septrin is devastating news for the 1.6 million people in Uganda living with HIV. Being unnecessarily subject to further life threatening infections like malaria and tuberculosis is a public health disaster with the potential to kill thousands. The people of Uganda desperately need the government to increase investment in fighting HIV, and require more help from international aid organisations to ensure their continued access to these essential medicines. By not seizing the crisis, the Ugandan government is failing many of its citizens, and denying their basic right to a normal quality of life.