UGANDA: New deadline for free anti-retrovirals
KAMPALA, 1 December (PLUSNEWS) - Uganda's ministry of health on Monday committed itself to offering free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS who urgently need it but cannot afford it, starting January 2004.
The announcement was made at the World AIDS Day commemoration in Kampala, attended by President Yoweri Museveni and Health Minister Jim Muhwezi.
In the government’s firmest commitment to date to providing access to the drugs, Muhwezi said that from January, Uganda would be the second country in Africa after Botswana to give free ARV drugs to its people living with HIV/AIDS.
However, he stressed that priorities would have to be drawn up.
"We are initially giving these drugs to orphans and pregnant mothers to prevent mother to child transmission," Muhwezi said. "Much still depends on how low the prices of the drugs go. Not long ago, treatments for one month were US $500 - now they are US $27.50."
Last month, Uganda received US $66 million for AIDS treatment and care under the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
Muhwezi told PlusNews that, in addition, Uganda has already procured US $6 million from the Bush administration and is expecting a great deal more under President Bush’s pledge of US $15 billion to 12 African countries to help combat the disease.
However, Muhwezi added it was not yet clear whether money from the Bush fund would be used to buy generics, or whether the US would insist on the purchase of patented drugs from the big brands which are 20 times more expensive.
Uganda has an estimated 150,000 people in need of ARV drugs, only about 10,000 of whom have access to them at present.
"Four regional centres for distribution and monitoring progress of the ARV drugs are already operational," Muhwezi said. "And we are expecting to have a lot more early next year."