CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Doctors Without Borders warned
on Saturday that a chronic shortage of drugs to treat AIDS
in six African countries could cost thousands of lives and
reverse progress made on the continent most afflicted by the disease.
In recent weeks, some clinics have stopped accepting new patients,
Eric Goemaere, medical coordinator in South Africa of
the organization, which is also known by
its French abbreviation MSF, told The Associated Press.
He said apathy of governments, donors and the organizations
they work with, as well as the global economic crisis, were to blame.
"There's no doubt people will die as a consequence.
It's a catastrophe in the making," Goemaere said
before the opening of
a four-day international AIDS conference in Cape Town.
A newsletter for the conference said,
"Amidst a lingering global recession and reports
that world leaders are retreating on prior commitments,
the 5,000 AIDS researchers, implementers and
community leaders gathering in Cape Town this weekend
are determined to raise their collective voices."
The conference president, Dr. Julio Montaner of the Geneva-based
International AIDS Society, added,
"Either we move forward or we will fall back.
That is the reality we face at this pivotal moment in HIV scale-up."
The countries affected are Zimbabwe, Uganda, Congo, Malawi,
Guinea and South Africa,
with the last suffering the highest rate of AIDS infection in the world.
At the end of 2007, 33 million people worldwide were living
with HIV, according to the World Health Organization.
Two-thirds of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,
which provides a quarter of all international financing
to fight AIDS across the world,
has not received $3 billion to $4 billion
in promised funding, according to
Mit Philips of the MSF research center in Brussels.
"Some countries have committed but have
not paid and there's a lot of uncertainty at
an international level whether the Global Fund
will get the money it needs," she said in a telephone interview.
The fund has already slashed 10 percent
from grants already approved last year, Philips said.
The fund's Web site says that, since its creation in 2002,
it has approved $15.6 billion for more
than 572 programs 140 countries.
In addition, Philips said, there has been
no promised increased in funds from
the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief,
a pet project of President George W. Bush
that is credited with saving millions of lives.
On the campaign trail, President Barack Obama promised
to expand the program by a billion dollars a year.
But Philips said funding has remained flat.
Goemaere said organizations using the project's funds
in Uganda have been told to stop taking on new patients.
For those who do not die, that means getting sicker
and sicker before getting access to the drugs,
that they may need expensive specialist care instead
of that of ordinary health workers, and
a greater likelihood of suffering
side effects from the anti-retrovirals.
"It makes a huge difference if people
come walking in for treatment,
or if they are coming in on stretchers,
" Goemaere said. "We're very scared"
of hearing no new patients must be enrolled.
Local news reports that some AIDS victims
in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province
have been forced to halt their drug regimen
raise other issues.
Such patients develop drug-resistance
and then must be treated with
a more expensive cocktail of medication.
Goemaere also feared difficulties in getting drugs
could reverse decades of work to fight the stigma
attached to AIDS: "We will be going back to
the dark times with people thinking that treatment
is not reliable or not accessible, so 'let's hide the disease.'"
The United Nations last month warned governments against
using the global economic crisis as an excuse
to cut funding for fighting AIDS at a time
when there are nearly five new HIV infections
for every two people put on treatment.
"With reports of drug shortages here and elsewhere
foremost on our minds, we must hold
our leaders accountable for the needless deaths
that will result, along with countless preventable infections,
" said the South African co-chairman of the conference,
Dr. Hoosen Jerry Coovadia, who is professor
in HIV/AIDS research at the University of Natal-Durban.
On the Web:
http://www.ias2009.org, official conference site
http://www.msf.org, Doctors Without Borders
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.--
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