A survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that 70 countries around the world are at risk of running out of HIV drugs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of these, 24 are already critically low on stock.

Antiretroviral drugs or ARVs are medications used in treating HIV. While there is no known cure for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, this medication helps control the virus and prevent infection to others. In 2019, around 25 million HIV patients received treatment using this drug. However, the massive disruption in the supply chain due to the pandemic has caused many countries to lack access to ARVs.

The WHO survey has revealed that the closure of land and air transportation, failure of suppliers to deliver the ARVs, and limited access to health services are among the causes of disruption. “The findings of this survey are deeply concerning,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it. We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease,” he added.

According to the WHO and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, the disruption of access to ARVs could lead to more HIV-related deaths this year. Back in May, the WHO estimated that such deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double this 2020 due to the pandemic.

The WHO said the findings of the survey only show how the coronavirus exacerbates pre-existing health crises. In May, a study also revealed that millions of people globally could develop tuberculosis due to the lockdown measures during the pandemic. 1.4 million people are also estimated to die of the disease during this time as more TB patients go undiagnosed and untreated.

“This situation makes me sick, because it is totally avoidable,” said Stop TB Partnership executive director Lucica Ditiu. “We just need to keep in mind that TB< as well as other diseases, keep affecting and killing people every single day,” not just COVID-19,” she added.

Meanwhile, the WHO announced on Saturday that the trial of the HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir as a combined treatment for COVID-19 had been stopped as results showed “no reduction in the mortality” among COVID-19 patients.

hiv protein An artist illustration of a schematic depiction of the protein structure of the pre-fusion HIV spike as viewed from above shows the three gp41 molecules in blue and the three gp120 molecules in red, in this National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) image released on October 8, 2014. New research that sheds light on the methods and machinery used by HIV to infect cells provides insight into the tricky virus that potentially could guide the development of a vaccine against the virus that causes AIDS, according to U.S. government and other scientists. REUTERS/NIAID/Handout