A red ribbon is the symbol for World AIDS Day. (Photo: VCG)
An NGO in China is helping hundreds of HIV carriers across the country who are facing a drug shortage amid the coronavirus outbreak, in cooperation with the UNAIDS.
Bai Hua, the head of Beijing-based NGO Baihualin National Alliance, told the Global Times that although China has a policy that allows AIDS patients to get anti-HIV drugs for free in designated hospitals and the local Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the facilities are busy dealing with COVID-19 and are quarantined and half-blocked.
Bai said most of the patients get drugs every month. But the seriousness of the epidemic exceeded many people's expectations and some returned to their parents' homes carrying medicine that only lasts for a week.
UNAIDS said on their website on Wednesday that according to their survey, nearly a third of people living with HIV in China are at risk of running out of drugs amid the novel coronavirus epidemic. Patients have no idea how to get drugs as many regions in the country are sealing off traffic to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
UNAIDS said they are collecting information of people in urgent need with the help of partners like Baihualin National Alliance. UNAIDS will donate protective outfits to hospitals and organizations, preventing those living with HIV from coronavirus infection.
Bai noted that previous reports like "AIDS drugs help combat coronavirus" stimulated the price of AIDS drugs, driving some to sell free drugs provided by government in the black market.
The NGO has set up more than 300 online chat groups involving more than 50,000 AIDS patients. About 1,200 patients asked for help since late January and more than 400 have received drugs for one to two weeks from the organization.
But Bai said some patients from remote regions, whose villages are blocked, cannot get the express deliveries which only arrive on the township level. The delivery is extremely slow amid the epidemic and some companies require prescriptions, he said.
Bai said more than 100 patients in the groups received drugs from other patients living nearby. The organization also suggested people running low on medicine but not in urgent need try their luck by calling their local CDC.
Bai reported the difficulties to China's central CDC on January 26. One day later, the center announced that AIDS patients could get one month's supply of drugs from the CDC where they were stuck in. In the past, patients could only get drugs from the CDC in their permanent residence.
Zhang Tong, an AIDS expert at Beijing You An Hospital, told the Global Times on Thursday that drug withdraws might damage an HIV carrier's immune system and cause drug resistance, making it more difficult to find suitable drug combinations to tame the virus.
Bai's NGO is also offering help to some foreigners who cannot receive welfare and adequate information in China.
"Not only AIDS needs our attention. Patients with Hepatitis B, diabetes and other chronic diseases are facing similar problems," said Bai. "Joint efforts are needed."