Antiretroviral Drug Supply Challenges in the Era of Scaling up ART in Malawi
The number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) has increased considerably in recent years and is expected to continue to grow in the coming years. A major challenge is to maintain uninterrupted supplies of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and prevent stock-outs. This article discusses issues around the management of ARVs and prevention of stock-outs in Malawi, a low-income country with a high HIV/AIDS burden, and a weak procurement and supply chain management system. This system for ARVs, paid for by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and bypassing the government Central Medical Stores, is in place, using UNICEF’s procurement services. The system, managed by a handful of people who spend limited time on supply management, is characterized by a centrally coordinated quantification based on verified data from all national ART clinics, parallel procurement through UNICEF, and direct distribution to ART clinics. The model worked well in the first years of the ART program with a single first-line ARV regimen, but with more regimens becoming available (e.g., alternative first-line, second-line, and pediatric regimens), it has become more difficult to administer. Managing supplies through a parallel system has the advantage that weaknesses in the national system have limited influence on the ARV procurement and supply chain management system. However, as the current system operates without a central warehouse and national buffer stock capacity, it diminishes the ability to prevent ARV stock-outs. The process of ordering ARVs, from the time that estimates are made to the arrival of supplies in health facilities, takes approximately one year. Addressing the challenges involved in maintaining ARVs through an efficient procurement and supply chain management system that prevents ARV stock-outs through the establishment of a dedicated procurement team, a central warehouse, and/or national buffer stock is a priority.