Mexican official resigns as HIV drug shortage sparks outcry

A top Mexican health official said on Thursday that he had resigned amid growing anger over drug shortages that have left hundreds of HIV patients without life-saving medicines.

Carlos Magis confirmed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation via text message local media reports that he had quit his job as director of comprehensive care at the national HIV/AIDS agency, Censida, but declined to give further details.

Magis also said the government had now begun buying HIV drugs after a shift in responsibility for purchasing from health authorities to the finance ministry led to medicine shortages.

“The commitment of Censida staff in the purchase (of medicines) is absolute and we work on whatever needs to be worked on,” Magis said in a text message late Wednesday.

The government announced the purchasing reform in March as part of a plan to centralize spending and eradicate corruption.

Activists said this week that hundreds of Mexicans living with HIV may have gone without life-saving treatment for weeks. as a result of delays in buying and distributing drugs.

About 220,000 people in Mexico have HIV, according to 2016 figures from the United Nations, and 97,000 are receiving treatment through a government health program.

Government health experts, academics and activists published an open letter online on Wednesday endorsing the government’s goal to improve drug purchasing.

The letter noted the need to “guarantee not only universal access to treatment of (HIV) infection, but also the optimization of costs and the simplification of treatment programs”.

It said Mexico buys antiretroviral drugs at a higher price than any other Latin American country, spending over $150 million last year.

“What we want is for the government to take back the power to buy drugs at better prices, to buy fewer drugs at better prices, and to buy better drugs,” said health campaigner Angel Candia, one of signatories.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December vowing to fight poverty and inequality, has urged pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices or risk losing out on government business to competitors.

But some advocates expressed concerns that finance concerns could overshadow the needs of those living with HIV.

“We’re not against these proposals,” Luis Adrian Quiroz, a prominent HIV activist told reporters.

“(But) what we have to think about is how we improve the care for all of us living with HIV.”

Reporting by Oscar Lopez; Editing by Michael Taylor, Claire Cozens and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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