General News of Thu, 22 Jan 20040

Ghana gives free anti-retrovirals to AIDS victims

ACCRA, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Ghana has begun supplying free anti-retroviral drugs to some AIDS sufferers and is considering producing the life-prolonging medicines locally, health officials said on Thursday.

"We started providing free anti-retroviral drugs to patients in four hospitals around the country this month. Our target is to have 6,000 people on the drugs each year over the next two years," Sekyi Amoah, director-general of the Ghana Aids Commission, told Reuters.

Around 3.4 percent of the West African nation's 19 million people are infected with HIV/Aids. Each day another 200 people are believed to become infected, but only about one-hundredth of those affected will receive the anti-retrovirals.

"That may not sound like a lot of people, but it's not everyone who has HIV who needs to be put on anti-retrovirals," Amoah said.

Africa is thought to have 30 million of the 40 million people affected by HIV/AIDS worldwide. There were about 3.2 million new infections and 2.3 million deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2003.

Of the 4.2 million people who need anti-retrovirals in Sub-Saharan Africa, only an estimated 50,000 get them. The imported drugs are too expensive for most African sufferers.

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A U.N. fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis has provided $15 million to partially pay for the drugs, refurbishment of hospitals and laboratory facilities, and cover the cost of counselling and testing for the next two years.

"The Global Fund's support will cover 2,000 people a year; our government will be responsible for the remaining 4,000 patients," Nii Akwei Addo, Aids programme director at the Ministry of Health, said.

The Global Fund was set up in 2001 as a kind of international war chest against the three diseases which combined kill nearly six million people each year.

Addo said the attorney-general's department was studying the feasibility of having generic anti-retroviral drugs manufactured locally without breaking World Trade Organisation (WTO) intellectual property rules.

"Once the legal issues have been cleared, we'll include that possibility in our options," he said.

The WTO last year agreed to let poorer nations without their own drugs industry set aside patent rights to import cheaper generic medicine to fight scourges such as AIDS.

Source: Reuters

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