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Free HIV drugs distribution to be undertaken by government
Tuesday 8 March 2005
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ETHIOPIA: Free HIV drugs distribution to be undertaken by government

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

ADDIS ABABA, 10 December (PLUSNEWS) - Ethiopia is to begin free distribution of potentially lifesaving drugs next month for people living with HIV, US officials supporting the programme said on Thursday.

The move is part of a US $43 million scheme from the US government of antiretroviral drugs for up to 15,000 people this year.

"You can consider this the start of the treatment era, in which free treatment will be made available in increasing numbers over the years," Taddesse Wahub, head of the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Ethiopia, said.

According to government plans, the number of people receiving the drugs will be expanded to 210,000 people within the next five years, which would involve screening 20 million people for the virus.

The treatment will be carried out in 20 hospitals around the country. Pay-as-you-go treatment began in September 2004, but under the new government strategy, the programme will be expanded to people living with HIV who cannot afford the cost of the drugs.

"It is a complex treatment to deliver," Dr Taddesse added. "It is not only drugs that you are providing. You need to put in place [a] health care infrastructure and health care systems - the personnel capacities, as well as the overall capacities to be able to deliver."

He said that over the last year work has been put in place to ensure that the 20 hospitals can effectively deliver the drugs to patients.

"Those gaps are being corrected in these sites and as things expand, that has to go hand in hand - the level of capacity, the level of readiness," he added.

However, potential barriers remain. Currently only half the population of 70 million people have access to any kind of health facilities in the country. The annual health budget is around US $140 million.

Ethiopia, according to recently revised figures from the government, has 1.5 million people living with the HIV virus. Dr Mark Dybul, assistant US global AIDS coordinator, also told journalists in Addis Ababa that the ABC - abstinence, be faithful and use condoms - campaign is critical.

He said that the US was providing 60 million condoms in Ethiopia as part of the ABC campaign.

"We have no doubt that the ABC method has been effective and will continue to be effective, " Dr Dybul said. "Condoms are a relevant part of our message. The problem is, it is not the only message. It is not a multiple choice, it is primacy of A and B and it has been truly effective."

US officials also cautioned over the decision by the Ethiopian government to shift their anti-AIDS body, the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (HAPCO), under the ministry of health.

Janet Wilgus, a US official, said: "Of course we know that attacking HIV/AIDS is a multi-sectoral problem that requires a multi-sectoral answer.

"We would want to see that those multi-sectoral organisations are being leveraged in the most effective way possible, she continued. "That is up to the Ethiopian government to figure out how best to do that."


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