Hurt by irregular supply of vital drugs, several HIV-infected patients staged a noisy protest at the headquarters of the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSACS) at Wadala on Thursday.
Over the past couple of months, several patients have had to return from the anti-retroviral (ART) centres without the medicines or only a part of the requirement for the month on account of the shortage.
"We are called to the centres every two or three days, sometimes after a week or a fortnight to collect the medicines. Sometimes, we don't have medicines," said a patient, who was among the crowd of protestors.
"They will tell us to purchase the medicines from private chemists. The first line drugs could cost about Rs12,000 to Rs15,000 a month; second line drugs may be costlier," he said.
The 33-year-old was infected following a blood transfusion about 13 years ago. He was put on the first line ART treatment in 2007 when the white blood cell count dropped drastically.
Patients travel from as far as Virar, Dombivli, Kalyan, Alibaug, Palghar, Pune and Nashik to the ART centre at JJ hospital in Byculla for treatment, which is free, to help control the infection.
The first line drugs are tenofivir, lamivudine, nevarapine and second line drugs are atazanavir and ritonavir.
"In January, JJ hospital started giving doses for 15 days instead of one month. Now they are giving medicines for only four or five days," said a 40-year-old patient, who travels from Bhayandar. "It's not easy to get leave from work as many of us cannot let our employers know about our condition. It could also mean loss of salary."
An official with MSACS said the shortage was due to stockouts at the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). "So we are trying to source medicines from other ART centres," he said.
On March 6, NACO directed MSACS to purchase the drugs locally. However, the process that includes tendering will take time and supply may improve only after March 24.
"Over 1,200 patients undergoing second line treatment have been affected. We have written to the Directorate of Medical Education for supply of drugs. The Centre has neither released medicines nor funds to enable us to make purchases locally," said Dr TP Lahane, dean at JJ hospital.