LEBANON: Drug shortage threatens HIV/AIDS patients

An AIDS awareness poster in Lebanon, where the social rejection of people who are HIV-positive is still a major problem.
BEIRUT, 11 August 2006 (PlusNews) - The lives of hundreds of Lebanese living with HIV and AIDS are under threat owing to the shortage of essential drugs in the country, health care workers said. "In one month, should the situation continue to deteriorate, HIV/AIDS patients' problems will no doubt multiply," said Mustafa al-Naqib, a physician and director of the health ministry's National AIDS Programme. Aid agencies and health workers warn that access into Lebanon and the major conflict zones pose a serious problem for aid convoys carrying medicines. The current conflict began on 12 July when Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party with an armed wing, captured two Israeli soldiers. Israel launched a military offensive to rescue the pair, and end Hezbollah rocket attacks. In the process it has destroyed vital infrastructure including roads and bridges. "Patients need to take uninterrupted multiple doses of these drugs," al-Naqib said. "If treatment is interrupted, then there is the short-term danger that they may develop resistance to treatment." According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) preliminary assessment, about 200 people on the government's treatment programme are finding it difficult to obtain the antiretroviral drugs they need to remain healthy. There are 918 registered HIV-positive people in Lebanon, said Elie Aaraj, director of local health NGO Nursing Care and Community Development. The government's treatment programme involves a combination of three drugs, and one of the three is in short supply, al-Naqib said. Without it, the effectiveness of the treatment is compromised. Further complicating the problem is that HIV/AIDS remains a largely taboo subject in Lebanon. Unlike other chronic illnesses, HIV and AIDS carries huge stigma and people living with the virus are reluctant to reveal their status. "Patients who are displaced are unlikely to approach doctors unknown to them at a temporary refuge to ask for antiretroviral drugs," said al-Naqib. Since at least some of the patients are likely to be among the 1 million Lebanese refugees, they also are residing in temporary refuges such as schools or public parks where sanitary conditions are often poor. "The type of food, or the lack of it, exacerbates the problems of these patients," said Aaraj. Because of a weakened immune system, poor hygiene and sanitation creates a heightened risk of illness. SA/LS/ED/OA

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