The National AIDS Authority of Panama (CONAVIH) held its quarterly session on 26 June 2012. The meeting reviewed the stock out of antiretroviral (ARV) medicines that has been affecting the country in the past months.
The First Lady of Panama and Chair of the CONAVIH, Ms Marta Linares De Martinelli highlighted the need for all partners involved in the national AIDS response to undertake the necessary actions to provide ARV medications regularly and permanently. “It is a matter of life or death,” Ms Linares stressed.
The meeting brought together high level government representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education as well as civil society leaders and people living with HIV. UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programmes, Dr Paul De Lay participated in the session at the special invitation from the First Lady.
Dr De Lay commended the authorities on the progress made in scaling up access to antiretroviral treatment but also stressed the need to identify new mechanisms for the distribution of ARVs to avoid stock outs in the future. “Timely and uninterrupted provision of medications to people living with HIV is a matter of commitment to human rights” affirmed Dr De Lay.
The ARV stock outs that occurred in the country were attributed to delays in the ARV purchase due to complex institutional regulations. Participants at the meeting agreed to establish a coordinating committee to identify existing barriers to purchase and provide ARVs. This committee will include representatives from civil society, pharmacists and physicians from health service institutions.
The need for a more precise calculation of annual ARV requirements was also seen as key to avoid stock outs together with a faster process for import, legalization and distribution of medications to the 15 local health facilities where people living with HIV are attended. Currently there are around 11 000 people living with HIV in Panama of which 6 000 are receiving ARV treatment.
Eliminating new HIV infections among children
Dr De Lay congratulated the First Lady´s leadership in the implementation of the national strategy to eliminate new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive. "This country may be one of the first countries in Latin America to achieve the goal of zero new HIV infections among children by 2015," expressed Dr De Lay. “Panama has everything that’s needed to reach this goal even ahead of 2015. However, it is still necessary to expand the current 76% coverage of HIV testing to all pregnant women, especially in rural areas" he added.
The First Lady stressed her commitment as the Chairperson of the National AIDS Commission to scale up the coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission services to all women in need throughout the country. “We will increase our efforts in order to achieve the target of zero new HIV infections among children.” concluded the First Lady.