Sunday, January 01, 2006

HIV patients in Zim lack access to drugs

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe -- When they named their daughter Progress, the parents showed a touching faith in the future. But six years later, the girl has lost them both to AIDS.

With no one willing to care for her, Progress Sibanda lives in a nursing home filled with terminally ill AIDS patients in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.

The girl has no visitors and few possessions - the clothes she wears and a comb her father gave her before he died this year. She never shows any emotion, the staff says.

The medical staff says Progress displays symptoms typical of AIDS, but she has never had an HIV test, let alone lifesaving antiretroviral medicines.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. More than 20 percent of the population, or about 1.8 million people between the ages of 15 and 49, is infected. That is down from 24 percent two years ago, a recent United Nations study found, partly because of changes in sexual behavior.

The country's economic collapse, marked by hyperinflation of more than 500 percent and unemployment estimated by trade unions at 70 percent, has left critical shortages in all basic areas. Food and fuel are in desperately short supply, and so are medicines - particularly antiretroviral drugs that can save the lives of AIDS patients.

According to the World Health Organization, 95 percent of Zimbabweans who need antiretroviral drugs cannot get them.

Zimbabwean health officials blame the lack of antiretroviral medicines on the country's critical shortage of foreign currency. The currency shortage has prevented a local manufacturer from importing components of the drugs, they say....

Read it and weep...

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