ZIMBABWE: Mugabe calls for cheaper AIDS drugs
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
President Robert Mugabe
HARARE, 16 June (PLUSNEWS) - About US $2.8 million (Zim $15 billion) has been made available for the purchase of antiretroviral drugs in public hospitals, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said on Wednesday at the official opening of the first national conference on HIV and AIDS.
"Regrettably, the current drug costs mean we can only reach 10,000 patients. Clearly, there is a need to mobilise more resources and build sustainable parterships, so that we can reach more patients," said Mugabe.
His government had declared the lack of access to AIDS drugs a national emergency two years ago to facilitate the importation cheaper generic drugs and allow manufacturing by local companies. Mugabe urged pharmaceutical firms to work with the government so as to "bring the prices of drugs down and enable more of our people to benefit".
Access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment was one of the priorities of his government, Mugabe said, but "has to be viewed in the context of comprehensive programmes for AIDS care that include access to conselling and treatment of opportunistic infections, comunity-based care, and orphan and psychosocial support".
He also noted that there was a need to complement expensive modern ARV drugs with traditional medicine in AIDS care. "After all, the majority of our people still rely on, and could benefit from, traditional medicine, as long as the proposed remedies pass the necessary medicine control tests".
Figures released last year by the Ministry of Health put the HIV prevalence rate among Zimbabweans aged between 15 and 49 at 24.6 percent, with an estimated 1.82 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
Although the prevalence rate appeared to be stabilising, the number of AIDS-related illness and deaths would continue to rise as current HIV cases developed into AIDS. "We are faced with the challenges of stemming the number of new HIV infections, [and] providing comprehensive care [and] treatment," he added.
About 700 delegates are attending the three-day conference, whose theme is "Taking Stock: Looking into the Future". At pre-conference sessions on Tuesday, delegates stressed that poverty and malnutrition were undermining the country's struggle against HIV and AIDS.
The government plans to roll out free ARVs to some 171,000 people by the end of next year. However, Dr Christine Chakanyuka, an HIV/AIDS clinician in the ministry of health, hinted that the government might be unable to meet that target as "we are limited by resources".
"The issue of poverty ... is one of the factors limiting the access to ARVs," Agence France Presse quoted Phineas Makurira, who spoke on behalf of doctors, as saying. It was time the government helped to bring down the cost of ARVs by scrapping duties on imported raw materials used in production and offering tax incentives to pharmaceutical companies, said Makurira.
In a country facing serious food shortages, malnutrition was identified as exacerbating the condition of people living with HIV/AIDS. "Malnutrition affects 90 percent of HIV/AIDS patients ... it is also responsible for 60 to 80 percent of AIDS deaths," noted nutritionist Percy Chipepera.