Thursday, May 11, 2006

People with HIV flounder as economy weakens

Newspapers headlines in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, announced last week that anti-AIDS drugs were in perilously short supply, endangering the lives of HIV-positive people.

The government has attributed the crumbling of its healthcare system - which threatens its free antiretroviral (ARV) programme - to sanctions imposed by western nations.

Whether part of a western conspiracy or not, the reality is that last month, Evellyn Chamisa, 36, had to share her month's supply of ARVs, which help prolong her life, with two of her friends.

The government's response to the AIDS crisis was to declare a state of emergency in 2002, allowing cheaper generic drugs to be imported as well as locally made under World Trade Organisation rules. But local generic drug manufacturers are hamstrung by the scarcity of foreign currency, which they need to import raw materials to make the ARVs.

Last year's Operation Murambatsvina ('Clean Out Garbage'), officially aimed at rooting out the blackmarket and criminals, encompassed unapproved housing owned or rented by the poor, and made life even more difficult. A year after the campaign, AIDS NGOs are still trying to locate displaced HIV-positive people, and fear that many have had to discontinue their drug treatment.

"We still haven't traced some clients ... they've vanished as far as we're concerned. Others disappeared for weeks and were homeless and incomeless, which means they were not eating, and that's a problem when taking [ARVs]," Lynde Francis, who runs The Centre, an HIV/AIDS NGO with 4,500 registered clients, told IRIN.

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