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Feature - Help for HIV/AIDS patients
Saturday 11 December 2004
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KENYA: Feature - Help for HIV/AIDS patients

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

NAIROBI, 29 April (PLUSNEWS) - Jane Achieng had been married for just over four years when her husband died from AIDS. Widowed, shunned by relatives and without a job to support her and her six-year-old daughter, Achieng's life has since then dramatically changed for the worse.

The 27-year-old mother has moved to the sprawling Mathare slum, one of Nairobi's poorest neighbourhoods, and frequently suffers AIDS related illnesses, but is unable to afford the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment which is known to prolong the life of AIDS patients.

Achieng is one of Kenya's estimated 220,000 people living with AIDS who are in dire need of antiretroviral treatment. Yet, so far only 7,000 have been lucky enough to access the drugs.


Now people like Achieng may not have to wait too long to get ARV treatment. The Kenyan government is planning to provide low cost or free ARV treatment to up to 20 percent of AIDS patients in the country by 2005.

Mary Wangai, the deputy director of the National AIDS/STD Control Programme (NASCOP), announced last week that the health ministry would start the ARV treatments in 15 public health facilities around the country, starting next year.

Welcoming the government announcement, the organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which is spearheading an international campaign for access to essential medicines, said it strongly supported wide-scale ARV use in Africa.

"In the face of AIDS, the only responsible action is to treat patients in danger of dying," Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, president of the MSF said. "Kenyan patients should be able to access life-saving ARV treatment, which often enables patients to resume their activities and live an almost normal life."


James Kimani, who works for the Consortium of AIDS NGOs in Kenya told PlusNews that 15 clinics countrywide for treating HIV patients was still far to small, but a "step in the right direction".

"We hope this is just the beginning. This is one of the things we have been waiting for a long time. A lot of people are infected with HIV and most can't afford to buy drugs," he said.

Kimani, however, stressed that such an initiative from the government would only succeed if supplemented by concerted support from other sectors in the country, in particular, the private sector, which forms the bulk of employers.

An estimated 2.2 million Kenyans (13 percent of the 28 million population) are infected with HIV, according to MSF. The epidemic, which now is estimated to kill 700 people daily, has generated close to a million orphans in the country.


One of the key obstacles to expanding AIDS treatment in Kenya is the prohibitive cost of ARVs, especially those with brand-names, according to MSF. And with the average wage in Kenya estimated at a dollar a day, even much cheaper generic drugs, which are go for about US $200 per patient per year, remain beyond the reach of most patients.

There are also other legal barriers. Despite a new law passed last year allowing for the import of generic drugs into Kenya, most of the drugs are still awaiting registration by the Kenyan regulatory authority, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

As a result of these obstacles, frustrated doctors in public hospitals say they are forced to prepare most of their patients to die, rather than raise their hopes regarding ARV treatment.


Chris Ouma, the National HIV/AIDS coordinator for the British charity ActionAid, says the government's plan is "too little too late".

"We have been having an HIV/AIDS crisis since the early 1990s," he told PlusNews. "I think the government can do better than this. To say that only 40,000 (20 percent of patients) will get treatment by 2005 is just a token gesture."


Recent KENYA Reports
HIV/AIDS prevalence down to seven percent, says gov't,  1/Dec/04
Global Fund approves funding proposals for AIDS, malaria and TB,  19/Nov/04
Impoverished community receives HIV/AIDS care,  21/Oct/04
AIDS drugs to be manufactured within weeks,  23/Sep/04
Government to expand HIV/AIDS treatment,  27/Aug/04
AIDS Media Center
VIH Internet
Sida Info Services
Le Fonds mondial de lutte contre le SIDA, la tuberculose et le paludisme

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.

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