NorthumberlandView.ca, Monday, November 30, 2009
By Carol Devine
At this crucial time when enormous efforts from communities, organizations and donors large and small, governments, and the scientific community are making progress, two interrelated concerns plague us; evidence of HIV funding shortfalls and threats to adequate stock of drugs.
From the spring of 2009 until recently, Dignitas International and other organizations fighting HIV/AIDS in Malawi have faced a new crisis. In parts of Malawi and in other countries, there has been a shortage of life-saving antiretroviral medicines available for HIV-positive people who needed them. One elderly patient had to walk over 25km to three sites in two villages before reaching Dignitas, where the team scrambled to help.
Treatment disruption was averted because of the swift action by the Ministry of Health, medical and healthcare teams cooperating and borrowing medicines. Dignitas did not run out of medicines. However, because of reduced availability to medicines, our team wasn’t able to maintain the steady increase of patients starting on antiretroviral treatment (ART) it was achieving after the clinic opened in October 2004.
In Malawi, Dignitas works closely with the Ministry of Health and others to tackle high HIV prevalence. Years of hard work are showing impressive impact on the pandemic in Malawi. By World AIDS Day 2009, over 250,000 Malawians will have received life-prolonging ART, of which 12,000 including 1,000 children will receive treatment from Dignitas-supported clinics. Dignitas is poised to expand its programs to reduce new HIV transmissions and provide wider ART coverage and services.
Access to the medicines means people living with HIV/AIDS can live, go to work, and take care of their families. Not just medicines need to be funded, but also programs that support nutrition, prevention, positive living, gender and economic empowerment. Evidence shows HIV treatment plays a role in prevention of new infections, better access to healthcare for women, improvement of health management systems, declining overall population mortality, and in minimizing other infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
Although over 42 per cent of the people who need HIV medicines are now receiving them, according to the UNAIDS’s Global Epidemic Update 2009, we can’t stop now.
It is clearly time to redouble efforts, not succumb to the fallacy that HIV has had enough funding or that the ‘fight’ is won.
Carol Devine is an AIDS activist and member of Dignitas International’s Board of Directors.