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GHANA: HIV-care initiative ESTHER comes to town

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

ACCRA, 18 February (PLUSNEWS) - ESTHER, a French government initiative which helps people living with HIV/AIDS gain access to healthcare, will shortly start operating in Ghana, ESTHER chairman Bernard Kouchner said.

ESTHER (the French acronym for Working Together for Therapeutic Solidarity among Networked Hospitals) was launched in April 2002 by the French government, with the support of Spain, Italy and Luxembourg. It aims to encourage partnerships between European hospitals and healthcare facilities in developing countries, as well as providing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to people living with AIDS.

The organisation currently operates in Benin, Burkina Faso Cameroun, Mali, Senegal, Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco and 10 other countries outside Africa. This is the first time it has proposed to work in an Anglophone country.

"We are coming into Ghana based on an invitation extended to us by President John Kufuor three years ago. This project has worked well in francophone countries and we hope to replicate the same success in Ghana," Kouchner, a former French health minister, told PlusNews on Wednesday.

Kouchner said the deal would be signed next month.

ESTHER officials said the organisation would operate within the framework of Ghana's national AIDS strategy, which aims to extend the availability government-subsidised ARV drugs to 16 hospitals next year from the current four.

Health officials believe that 72,000 people need ARV treatment in this West Arican country, but just 2,100 receive subsidised therapy at present.

"The ESTHER project is a healthy collaboration. It will share and add on knowledge in the fight against the pandemic," Sylvia Anie-Akwetey of the Ghana AIDS Commission told PlusNews.

In countries where ESTHER already operates, the organisation has helped to set up hospital referral centres for people living with HIV/AIDS, providing equipment and ARV drugs, which can prolong a patient's life.

"Taking antiretroviral drugs is for life. For now, working with the hospitals is central to this project. But with time we hope to decentralise treatment and care from the hospitals to healthcare centres and even homes within the various communities," Kouchner said.

He expressed the hope that the programme would have a trickle-down effect on rural communities who hardly benefit from the HIV/AIDS treatment at present. "It will take time and effort but that is the focus of this project," Kouchner added.

ESTHER director Anne Petitgirand said: "We will work within the Global Fund grant given to the country as well as what other donors will bring in. But remember, we are also bringing in expertise, training and equipment along with our partnerships."

According to official figures, 3.6 percent of adults in Ghana are infected with the HI virus.


Recent GHANA Reports
Government ploughs ahead with plans to produce AIDS drugs locally,  31/Aug/05
AIDS treatment on rise, but stigma still around,  17/Aug/05
Single battle-plan to hit both TB and HIV/AIDS,  19/May/05
HIV-AIDS on decline for first time in 5 years, survey shows,  15/Apr/05
Local employers start to care for their HIV-positive staff,  7/Apr/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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