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ZAMBIA: HIV/AIDS patients turn to supplements

Photo: IRIN
Lusaka - poverty forcing people living with AIDS to rely on supplements
johannesburg, 29 January 2002 (PlusNews) - Unable to afford antiretroviral drugs, Zambian HIV/AIDS patients are turning to immune boosters and nutritional supplements, local doctors told PlusNews.

Speaking at the launch in Zambia of a new range of mineral supplements by the pharmaceutical company Aid Action International (AAI) last week, National AIDS Council Director-General Dr Golden Bola, was quoted as saying that patients and families were so desperate for AIDS drugs that they would try anything.

AAI introduced affordable zinc, magnesium and selenium supplements which have undergone trials involving HIV/AIDS patients in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana. In South Africa, initial results showed increased energy and vitality among patients receiving the supplements, the company said.

Dr Jonas Mwale of Zambia' University Teaching Hospital told PlusNews on Monday that multivitamins and natural immune boosters were used extensively by patients as many could not afford anything else.

"You just walk into a HIV/AIDS hospital ward and see rows and rows of bottles of multivitamins and boosters," he said.

He warned, however, that the products launched by AAI were not "wonder drugs". "They are just basic nutritional supplements, they are not a cure," he said.

Several doctors had expressed reservations about the lack of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of some of the products available, he noted. Many feared that patients would use them incorrectly and perhaps "overdose" on the nutrients.

According to Mwale, malnutrition was a "serious problem" which accelerated the progression of the disease. Even when taking antiretroviral therapy, nutritional supplements could help patients feel better, he said. "If it makes them feel better and improves their strength, its probably worth it."

Fanni Chikamba, co-ordinator of the Zambia Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (ZBCA) told PlusNews that the group welcomed any affordable HIV/AIDS treatment that would improve the lives of workers in the country.

Her organisation has been looking for easy and affordable sources of antiretroviral drugs, immune boosters and any other forms of treatment for HIV/AIDS. "For many people, this is their only choice," she said.

Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews,

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

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