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Doctors Without Borders Urges Governments to Follow Its AIDS Treatment Model - 2003-11-27

The group, Doctors Without Borders, says with simple testing procedures, a simplified pill regimen and streamlined monitoring, it is able to deliver effective care to the poorest HIV/AIDS patients in remote areas. The international aid organization is urging governments to follow its model and make AIDS treatment available for free.

Officials with the international medical aid agency, Doctors Without Borders, told reporters in Nairobi that treating people with HIV does not have to involve complicated and expensive testing and cumbersome treatment. They say simple testing procedures and the new anti-retroviral drugs make treatment for HIV-positive patients much cheaper and accessible to many more patients in rural areas.

The medical aid agency says it is using fewer and simpler tests to diagnose patients and to monitor treatment.

A relatively new pill, called "three-in-one," which combines three anti-retroviral drugs, simplifies the treatment. With this medication, the patient takes one pill in the morning and one in the evening.

Doctors Without Borders says it is able to deliver this treatment and monitor results in community health care centers, or even mobile clinics, rather than in hospitals, which are inaccessible to many people infected with HIV.

The head of Doctors Without Borders' International Council, Dr. Morten Rostrup, says this approach has enabled the organization to quadruple in less than a year the number of patients it treats with anti-retrovirals.

"It is possible to treat patients - very severe stage HIV/AIDS patients - in resource-poor settings: in slum areas, in shantytowns, in small villages, in rural areas in Africa," Dr. Rostrup said. "It is fully possible to give them medicines that prolong life. People cannot come here and say that this is too difficult, this is not possible to do in Africa for instance, it takes too much. It is not true."

Dr. Rostrup says the treatment costs $270 per patient per year, but could go down to as low as $50 a year.

Doctors Without Borders estimates 2.5 million people in Kenya are infected with HIV. Of those, as many as 500,000 people are believed to be in need of anti-retroviral treatment, but only about 12,000 receive it.

Patricia Asero from a low income neighborhood of Nairobi is one of the lucky Kenyans to receive the three-in-one pill. She says, after she lost her husband to AIDS, she got sick with pneumonia and dementia, and began to fade away.

"I feel better. I am able to concentrate," she said. "I can do my work perfectly well, and I have hope. I look at myself now as surviving, growing, and I have a new beginning at life. The ARVs have given me a second chance at life."

A doctor working at an agency project in the low-income area of Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Dr. Earnest Nyamato, says it is frustrating to deny people treatment.

"Every time we get a new patient, the first question they will ask is, when am I going to be put on treatment? When is it going to be my turn," Dr. Nyamato said. "I try to explain to them that the drugs are not that universally available, they are not that affordable. The patient just asks, why?"

Dr. Rostrup says the governments and international aid agencies should provide the anti-retroviral treatment to all the people who need it.

"Treatment must be free, and we are going to be strong on that. Patients cannot, and should not, pay for the treatment; it should be free treatment," Dr. Rostrup said. "In many of the settings we are working, people are very poor. They cannot afford drugs anyway, even though the prices have been pretty much reduced the last years."

He praised the South African government for its decision to make the anti-retroviral medication available to all those who need it, and called for other countries to do the same.