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Price of AIDS testing and ARV drugs slashed
Friday 6 May 2005
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GABON: Price of AIDS testing and ARV drugs slashed


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



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Gabon - making AIDS testing and treatment cheaper

LIBREVILLE, 10 June (PLUSNEWS) - The government of Gabon has announced a further cut in the price of anti-retroviral drugs for people living with AIDS and has slashed the price of HIV/AIDS testing for the country's 1.2 million population.

Both measures were introduced in April following an announcement by the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that it would grant the West African country US $3 million grant to help fight AIDS.

Oil-rich Gabon has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in West Africa and for the past three years, subsidised anti-retroviral therapy has been available at a cost of between 10,000 and 15,000 CFA francs (US$20-30) per month.

But Doctor Gabriel Malonga, the director of the government's National Campaign to Fight AIDS (PNLS), told PlusNews that ARV drugs are now given free of charge to pregnant women and children under 12, while students and unemployed people living with AIDS pay just 2,000 CFA ($4) per month.

"This benefits the jobless people like me and makes us follow our treatments regularly. It also reduces the inequalities in treatment that used to exist in hospitals", one woman living with AIDS, who preferred not to be named, told PlusNews.

Malonga said civil servants now pay 5,000 CFA ($10) per month for the treatment, which can improve the health of people living with AIDS and can extend their life, but cannot cure them.

Private sector employees with their own health insurance are charged 10,000 CFA ($20), he added.

At present, 1,600 people receive subsidised antiretroviral therapy in Gabon, where according to government statistics 7.7 percent of the population is HIV positive.

"With the reduction of ARV price, the government hopes to increase the number of people receiving ARV treatment by 1000 patients a year," Malonga said.

On average, the government is now subsidising 90 percent of the cost of ARV treatment. Since the cheaper drugs were introduced at the beginning of April, the number of people seeking the therapy has soared.

"Right now, there are 75 more patients awaiting treatment in Libreville, 40 in Port Gentil and 40 in Franceville. This is already very much higher than the increase of 55 per month we had previously registered", Malonga said.

The grant from the Geneva-based Global Fund has also allowed the government to cut the cost of AIDS screening.

In the capital Libreville, which is home to half the population of Gabon, the PNLS has launched a centre for voluntary and anonymous HIV testing which charges students 1,000 CFA (US$2) and all others 2,500 CFA (US$5).

Malonga said that during the first three weeks of April, it screened 106 people, of whom 29 tested positive.

The PNLS says women are particularly hard hit by AIDS in Gabon, accounting for 60 percent of all infections. The HIV prevalence rate in pregnant women tested at ante-natal clinics jumped from 5.5 percent in 1997 to 8.1 percent last year and according to the PNLS it is still rising.

The Geneva-based Global Fund has not yet disbursed its grant to Gabon, but Malonga said the knowledge that this money was on its way had given the government confidence to further slash the price of anti-retroviral treatment and AIDS testing.

"Thanks to the grant, the amount the government has allocated to a national solidarity fund set up in 2001 has risen from one billion CFA ($2 million) last year to 1.5 billion CFA ($3million) in 2004", Malonga said.

The Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and affected communities around the world, created to boost resources in the fight against three of the planet's most devastating diseases.

President Omar Bongo, who has ruled Gabon for 37 years, has declared the fight against AIDS to be a "national priority."

But the first outpatient centre for people living with AIDS was only established in the capital Libreville in 2001.

Despite the country's relative wealth, based on offshore oil production that is now declining, more than a third of the population live on less than the minimum wage of 40,000 CFA (US$80) per month, the latest cuts in the cost of AIDS treatment should make a big difference.

In an effort to reach more people living with AIDS, the Gabon government has also created day centre clinics to treat patients in Libreville, Franceville, a town near the southern border with Congo-Brazzaville and Lambarene, a town 240 km south of the capital.

Conscious of the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, the government has publicly denounced discrimination against people living with AIDS and has urged health workers to adopt a more sympathetic attitude towards them.

"We need to improve our behaviour towards people living with AIDS and their relatives," Health Minister Faustin Boukoubi said.

Lydie Ebouili, who is now an in-patient at Libreville's main hospital, said removing the stigma attached to AIDS would encourage HIV-positive people to seek treatment earlier. "Care is now more accessible, drugs are less expensive, but treatment will not have much effect if it is started late. I hesitated a long time before undergoing a test, and my health situation has got worse," she told PlusNews from her sickbed.

[ENDS]


 
Recent GABON Reports
New factory produces AIDS and anti-malarial drugs for the region,  15/Feb/05
Taxis the new weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS,  16/Dec/04
Female condoms are subsidised, but not widely advertised,  21/Oct/04
Number of new HIV infections fell in 2003,  24/Sep/04
Government launches free AIDS helpline,  20/Sep/04
Links
AIDS Media Center
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
VIH Internet
Sida Info Services
Aides

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