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News Release

Many Africans have no access to efficient and safe AIDS therapy

25 November 2011 Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp

Scientists from the Institute of Tropical Medicine warn: the control of the HIV virus in sub-Saharan Africa may have taken some large steps, mainly due to the lower price of medicines, but at the same time a lot of problems remain: a shortage in health workers, western aid organisations thinking of reducing their support, the lack of laboratory tests to monitor the efficacy and safety of treatments, the high prevalence of opportunistic infections, the limited number of antiretroviral agents available, the low coverage of the population.

In Uganda, for instance, only two thirds of adults and a quarter of the children needing treatment are in fact treated. In the cities some 10% of the population is infected, in rural areas 6%, which means more than 1.2 million people (will) need treatment.

Barbara Castelnuovo of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, figured out how treatment can be improved in resource limited settings: when best to start treatment, how safe are the different treatment regiments, how do you check if the treatment works …

She did her research with patients receiving antiretroviral treatment at the clinic of the Infectious Diseaeses Institute of Kampala. Most patients who died, were in a late stadium of the disease and had a low count of CD4 immune cells. Indications that treatment had started too late. The phenomenon receiving recently quite some attention by scientists (IRIS, immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome), when the immune system through the treatment recovers so well that it overshoots, in reality causes only a limited number of deaths. Patients sometimes were put to fast on (costly) second line medicines.

The patients can be helped faster if nurses take over part of the follow-up from the physicians, and when patients can collect their refills directly from the pharmacist, without each time first collecting a prescription from a doctor. Without endangering the quality of care.

All in all: certainly in these difficult times when western help threatens to shrink, it is important that funds for AIDS control are used as effectively as possible.

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