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German Conglomerate, Catholic Organization Take Aim at Drug-Resistant HIV in Africa


German conglomerate Siemens signed an agreement with a Catholic organization to lower the costs of lab tests for HIV patients in Africa. These tests aim to establish whether HIV patients are becoming resistant to drug therapies they are undergoing. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome

The agreement between the well-established Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio, and Siemens Medical Solutions Diagnostics was signed at the end of the fifth international conference of the DREAM project titled "Long life to Africa: Fighting Aids and Malnutrition".

Health ministers and representatives from over 20 African nations, members of aid groups and policymakers attended the meeting and were later received by the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.

Discussions centered on the state of the fight against AIDS in Africa and the need for more to be done. Experts say the agreement signed Thursday is a step in this direction. Worth one million euro for a period of three years, the agreement is aimed at lowering by 35 percent the costs of laboratory testing to combat HIV resistance to drugs.

Laura Apitz at Siemens explains the importance of testing.

"The agreement that was signed today is to provide laboratory equipment and HIV reagents for resistance testing," she said. "Resistance testing for patients is necessary to make sure we select the right therapy for the right patient and to prevent resistance from transferring from patient to patient."

Experts say that until 2002 the focus on the continent was on AIDs prevention.

But Mario Marazziti, spokesman of the Community of Sant'Egidio, says this agreement changes that focus. He says that lab tests are now considered necessary on HIV-infected patients before and during therapy.

Marazziti says that in order for AIDS therapies to be effective, these cannot just involve the distribution of drugs but must go hand in hand with the constant monitoring of how these drugs react in the human body.

Two million people in Africa are getting drug therapies for AIDS as part of the DREAM project. Twelve laboratories already existence in eight different African countries.

Marazziti says monitoring will improve the already extraordinary results achieved by the DREAM project. He says that where the project has been implemented, 98 percent of children of HIV-positive mothers are now being born healthy and over 90 percent of HIV-positive adults are living better lives.

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