New strategy launched to combat HIV/AIDS

ETHIOPIA: New strategy launched to combat HIV/AIDS

ADDIS ABABA, 24 Jan 2005 (PLUSNEWS) - Ethiopia is beginning to turn the tide in the war against HIV/AIDS, but the virus is still devastating the country, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Monday.

Speaking at the launch of the government's new three-year anti-HIV/AIDS strategic plan in the capital, Addis Ababa, Meles warned that hundreds of thousands of people were still dying.

"Even though our struggle is bearing some encouraging results, we must not forget that we have one and a half million people infected by the virus," he said. "Even if the rate of progression of the epidemic is decreasing, hundreds of thousands of our people continue to perish."

His comments came as the government began the first-ever distribution of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for up to 30,000 people this year. It estimates that ARVs could prevent 78,000 AIDS deaths in the first year if all people living with HIV/AIDS had access to the treatment.

Full ARV coverage, the government added, could also reduce orphan numbers by 332,000 by 2008.

The new strategic plan - the fifth since the first ever strategy was drawn up in 1996 - aims to boost health coverage countrywide and speed up behavioural change. It commits greater government resources and pledges to speed up local production of ARVs "as a matter of urgency".

According to the Ethiopian government, around 1.5 million people are HIV-positive. Some 12.6 percent of those are in urban areas, while 2.6 percent are in rural areas. The national prevalence rate is 4.4 percent.

Experts at the launch of the plan, however, noted that prevalence rates were beginning to creep up in the rural areas. Since two cases were reported in 1986, some 900,000 people have died, but that figure is expected to double by 2008, according to health ministry projections.

"The vast majority are unreported and many more have died unnoticed and unaided," health minister Kebede Tadesse said. Deaths from AIDS-related complications account for a third of all young adult deaths in Ethiopia, he added.

Life expectancy in Ethiopia has also been slashed by five years to 46 because of the epidemic. Half a million children have been orphaned.

Ethiopian president, Girma Wolde-Giorgis, said HIV/AIDS had shattered all levels of society, from individuals to families and had undermined national security. "It is an enemy that does not give us a chance to relax," he said. "It is a cloud over our very survival."


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