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Nepal’s Critical Drug Shortage: HIV Meds Shouldn’t Be This Hard To Get



Medical aid bound for Nepal is staged before being loaded onto a FedEx plane in 2015. (Photo by Ivan Castaneira for Direct Relief)

At the age of 13, Shanti Tamang Lama, a young woman from central Nepal, was drugged and imprisoned in a brothel in Mumbai, India. It was two years until a police raid gave her an opportunity to escape. She returned to Nepal, but sadly, she had contracted HIV.

Shanti struggled with her health for years until she found an antiretroviral drug regimen that works for her. Shanti, age 35, now helps other HIV positive women and children through Shakti Samuha, the nonprofit organization where she works.

While someone who’s overcome such hardship should get to live happily ever after, Shanti is facing yet another challenge to her health.

The earthquake and a border blockade with India have dramatically reduced the flow of medications into Nepal, including drug therapies for HIV. Throughout the country, people with HIV/AIDS and other serious chronic conditions are facing the terrifying possibility of a medical stock out.

On a visit to the doctor in August, Shanti was told that the hospital was out of her HIV medication.

“In this time I am not feeling good but am not losing my hope,” she wrote in a text message to friends.

A few days later, she sent another text.

“I have already visited many hospitals and had many meetings with doctors but couldn’t find any solution of my problem, so dear friends, please pray for me.”

Her friends did more than that.

They circulated her messages until they reached Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) and the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control (NCASC). In turn, the MoHP reached out to Direct Relief with a request for the antiretroviral drugs that Shanti and other patients living with HIV/AIDS desperately need.

Shanti’s medicine is one of the critically needed drugs included in the Direct Relief air freight shipment currently en route to Nepal. Direct Relief also coordinated with Indian-partner organization Doctors for You to ensure that Shanti, and other patients, have enough medicine to last until the shipment arrives.

“I would like to express my thanks to Direct Relief for supporting me with medicine for my critical health condition,” Shanti said in a recent email.

“It was my darkest day when the doctor told me that Nepal didn’t have my medicine anymore, but now you are coming like light to take me out from the dark. I don’t know how to thank you but from inside my heart.”

People living with HIV can live long, fulfilling lives, but only if they have access to medicine. For now, in Nepal, Shanti and others do.

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