AIDS deaths compounded by lack of basic health care, says agency

 The devastation caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been significantly increased by a shortage of even the most basic of medicines, aid agency CAFOD said yesterday. While survival rates for people with the virus in the developed world have increased dramatically, HIV/AIDS patients in Africa are dying much earlier after diagnosis from the simplest illnesses because of the lack of treatment. CAFOD and its partners have been calling on the international community for many years to provide Africans with supplies that would alleviate much of the suffering of people living with HIV/AIDS. They say those demands have been ignored. John Howson, who is representing the agency at the the International AIDS conference in Durban, said he welcomes pledges by donors and pharmaceutical companies to make available anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs that combat the disease. But, he says, the need for even more basic medicine is a priority. "We must fight tooth and nail to ensure that Africans have access to medicines," he says. "It will take years to get anti-retroviral therapy running effectively. If Africans had access to simple medicines, the impact would be incredible and immediate. There are serious and complex development issues about why ARV will not work at this time. Issues such as poverty and collapsing health services are key." Howson says the mathematics just do not add up. In Britain, ARV therapy costs about 8,000 pounds per person per year for tablets only. ARV also requires sophisticated health support systems, such as laboratories and monitoring. Some countries in Africa spend under three pounds per person per year on health care and their health services are in a state of collapse. Even if ARV drugs were free, there would not be adequate health services available to care for individuals taking such drugs. Essential basic drugs, on the other hand, are needed for common HIV-related infections such as oral thrush and pneumonia as well as killers such as tuberculosis. These basic drugs prolong the life of people with HIV/AIDS for years by keeping them healthy, able to work and vastly improve their quality of life. John Howson says: "If you have HIV/AIDS in Africa then you probably also have TB. We have the drugs to defeat TB but in many places we are failing to do so. TB treatment is cheap and relatively easy to administer. If we cannot make the TB treatment work, it seems unlikely that ARV therapy will be effective. "Africans have a right to these ARV drugs, but the most effective means of combating HIV/AIDS is to make basic medicines available." CAFOD is also calling on African leaders to introduce strategic planning on a national level to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS.