Distribution of free anti-AIDS drugs begins

UGANDA: Distribution of free anti-AIDS drugs begins

KAMPALA, 14 Jun 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - The health ministry has launched a programme to distribute free anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to people living with AIDS through 26 centres in district and regional referral hospitals across the country.

Health Minister Brig Jim Muhwezi told PlusNews on Friday that arrangements were being made to expand the distribution outlets to reach more people. "The first consignment is worth US $1.3 million while another lot worth $1.7 million will follow," said Muhwezi.

Uganda has an estimated 100,000 people in immediate need of ARVs, but only 10,000 of them have had access to them, mainly through private suppliers. The new programme, which was launched on Friday, aims to immediately reach another 2,700 people, especially the poor and civil servants.

"The Joint Clinical Research Centre [a government institution specialising in HIV/AIDs research] is working on a programme to increase the number of centres so that patients can access them [and] for monitoring purposes," the minister added.

According to the health ministry, the country's main hospital at Mulago hill in the capital, Kampala, will initially get 300 doses. The regional referral hospitals allocated the drugs are: Arua, Gulu, Fort Portal, Jinja, Kabale, Masaka, Mbale, Mbarara, Soroti, Lira and Hoima. Each will initially receive 150 doses, except Arua and Masaka, which will get 100 each.

Parallel to hospital allocations, 150 doses are being given to civil servants. Four other district hospitals - Kaabong, Rakai, Sembabule, Kalangala and three missionary hospitals, Lacor, Kalongo and Nyakibale, will get 50, each while the Bombo and Mbuya military hospitals will each be given 100 doses, while the police force and prisons department will each receive 50 doses.

Muhwezi said a number of private clinics had also been certified to distribute the drugs, but at these private outlets, patients would have to pay for them.

He said the initial funding for the programme had been secured from the World Bank through a multi-sector HIV/AIDS project. More funds were expected from various sources to fund the provision of ARVs to at least 60,000 people over a period of five years. "We have decided to reach out using initial limited resources, but we hope to fully roll out and get to everybody now that prices are going down." Muhwezi added.

Close to a million Ugandans have died of the disease since it was first reported in the country about 22 years ago, while an estimated 1.2 million others carry the virus that causes the disease. Infection rates have, however, decreased following an aggressive government campaign promoting abstinence, faithfulness and the use of condoms.

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