Venezuela to Guarantee Access to HIV Medications, Says Health Ministry

Starting next year, the Venezuelan government will guarantee antiretroviral medication to people with HIV, and will expand the use of a Cuban-made medicine to treat diabetic foot ulcers nation-wide, according to recent announcements by the Venezuelan Health Ministry.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Mérida (venezuelanalysis.com)-- Starting next year, the Venezuelan government will guarantee antiretroviral medication to people with HIV, and will expand the use of a Cuban-made medicine to treat diabetic foot ulcers nation-wide, according to recent announcements by the Venezuelan Health Ministry.

Venezuela’s HIV-positive patients “will have their treatment guaranteed next year; we have made preparations to acquire the medicines and cover the whole population free of charge,” said Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader in an interview with the state television station VTV last week.

Marbelys Hernández, who manages the Health Ministry’s AIDS program, said that next month the ministry will begin to use a new HIV test that produces results in one hour. Hernández made the announcement during the Ninth Venezuelan Conference on Infectious Diseases in mid-October.

Also this month, Venezuela participated in a meeting of Latin American Parliament representatives in Panama to discuss public policy on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS. The meeting was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program.

Venezuela does not have a law governing HIV and AIDS policy, but the National Assembly is discussing the possibility of incorporating articles on the diseases, including treatment for HIV- positive prisoners, into the nation’s Health Law, according to Legislator Marelis Pérez, who participated in the Panama meeting.

Non-governmental organizations in Venezuela have repeatedly complained of the lack of access to antiretroviral medicines. On Monday, Jhonatan Rodríguez of the Stop VIH Organization told the press the drug known inside the US as Abacavir and outside the US as Kivexa is often not available in hospitals and pharmacies.

“People with HIV have been confronted with four shortages [of medicines] so far this year in Venezuela,” said Rodríguez. “To this, we add the arbitrary changes in treatment plans by people who do not have the attributes or the competence to do so, and the scarcity of condoms distributed free of charge,” the activist added.

The Venezuelan government launched a publicity campaign aimed at public education about HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment in 2005. Free condom distribution was part of the campaign, but did not continue after the campaign ended toward the end of 2005.

According to government figures, there are as many as 56,500 HIV-positive people in Venezuela. 35,512 of them are currently receiving antiretroviral drugs, including 950 children. Most of those with the virus are between the ages of 25 and 45.

According to a recent study by Doctor Alejandro Risquez that was presented at the Venezuelan Conference on Infectious Diseases this month, in Venezuela five people per day, or 1,825 people per year, die from AIDS.

HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, leads to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), a deadly disease that weakens the immune system. There are treatments that reduce the effects of HIV and AIDS, but there is no cure.

Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Venezuela also plans to expand the use of Heberprot-P, a Cuban medicine that has produced positive results in curing diabetic foot ulcer patients.

Currently, Heberprot-P is used in 15 Venezuelan states, and Venezuela’s goal is to expand its use to all 24 states, according to Doctor Loyda Gafaro de Valera, who coordinates the Health Ministry’s Endocrine-Metabolic Health Program.

Since 2008, when the drug was first used in Venezuela, 12,500 Venezuelans who suffer from diabetic foot ulcers have been treated with Heberprot-P, and only 96 of them ended up needing amputations – a number that might have tripled if it were not for the use of the drug, Gafaro de Valera said.

The doctor said there are currently 100,000 patients in Venezuela who need the treatment, which is provided though a bi-national cooperation accord between Venezuela and Cuba that includes Cuban doctors who administer the treatment free of charge in local public clinics.

Gafaro de Valera made the remarks during the International Congress on Biotechnology, which was held in Havana, Cuba last week and hosted 139 international participants from 33 countries, along with 300 Cuban participants.

According to IPS, Heberprot-P was invented by the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and has been used to treat more than 18,000 patients. The drug is approved for use in Argentina, Algeria, Venezuela, and Uruguay, and awaits approval in Mexico, the United States, South Africa, Australia, and India, according to Prensa Latina.