South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, a HIV activist organisation, has called on Bristol-Myers Squibb to prevent a critical drugs shortage in the country.

Amphotericin B, a life-saving drug used to treat the AIDS defining-disease cryptococcal meningitis, is currently in short supply. Bristol-Myers Squibb is the only company that has registered the drug in South Africa, under the brand name Fungizone.

The Southern African HIV Clinicians Society recommends that every patient diagnosed with cryptococcal meningitis receives two weeks of amphotericin B treatment.

Cryptococcal meningitis affects around 7,000 people in the country every year.

However, in cases where amphotericin B is not available patients are treated solely with fluconazole, which can lead to higher rates of relapse and mortality.

In a statement on its website, the Treatment Action Campaign said, “It is crucial that the Department of Health facilitates the swift movement of the drug through customs and to hospitals with shortages as soon as it arrives in the country.

“As the company responsible for the supply of amphotericin B in South Africa, Bristol-Myers Squibb must take primary responsibility for the stock-out.”

A variant drug called liposomal amphotericin B, distributed by Key Oncologics could be used as a substitute, but it is very expensive and normally used to treat fungal infections that may occur as a complication of chemotherapy.

The Treatment Action Campaign has reported that many healthcare facilities in South Africa have already ran out of amphotericin B, including Potchefstroom Hospital, Johannesburg General Hospital, Mafikeng Hospital and Helen Joseph Hospital.

According to organisation, Bristol-Myers Squibb is now making “every effort” to get the drug into South Africa as soon as possible, but the shortage “should have not occurred in the first place”.

The problem of drug shortages is also worsening in the US, where the American Society of Health System Pharmacists is campaigning to pass legislation that will make the drug supply chain more predictable and transparent.