Free ARVs for HIV-positive civil servants

UGANDA: Free ARVs for HIV-positive civil servants


A health worker visits an HIV-positive man on ARV therapy.

NAIROBI, 7 Apr 2005 (PLUSNEWS) - Some 10,000 Ugandan government workers living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, will receive free antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, the minister for economic monitoring, Omwony Ojwok, told PlusNews on Thursday.

"The project will help civil servants - a group that has not previously been targeted by government - to receive free ARV treatment," he said. "It will take place in phases - the initial phase started in early 2005."

He added that although no concrete figures were available for the number of public servants who were HIV-positive, the figure of 10,000 was based on an epidemiological study by the ministry of health. Uganda has a civil service of approximately 230,000.

"The cost of educating and training these highly specialised people - who are responsible for drawing up and planning government policies - is very high," Ojwok said. "Their expertise is not easily replicated."

As part of the initiative, he said, workers would receive counselling and testing. Those found to be HIV-positive would be referred to a hospital to receive ARV therapy.

One major problem the project faced, he added, was the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, which could stop many civil servants from getting tested.

Ojwok said: "Many of our people are still unwilling to go and get tested – this is an obstacle we must overcome, because it means we may continue to lose valuable members of the public service from this problem."

In June 2004, the ministry of health began distributing free ARVs countrywide to those unable to afford them. According to the US Presidential Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, Uganda's Joint Clinical Research Centre is the largest provider of ARVs in sub-Saharan Africa.

The progress Uganda has made in the provision of ARVs has of late come under threat, as India's lower parliamentary chamber recently passed a bill that could see the production of generic drugs, including ARVs, are under threat. India is one of the world's largest ARV producers.

At least 80 percent of ARVs used in Uganda are made in India, and the ministry of health has cautioned that the implementation of the legislation could severely affect the provision of the much-needed treatment.

Uganda's HIV prevalence rate has come down from over 20 percent in the 1980s to around six percent. Nevertheless, one million Ugandans have died due to the pandemic, 78,000 of them in 2003 alone.


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