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December 13, 2013

HIV/AIDS Epidemic Still Ravaging African Countries

by Kim Lewis

Major progress has been made in Africa’s fight against HIV/AIDS but one of the major problems remaining is giving the thousands living with AIDS the drug therapies that can let them live a long life.

“In terms of the reality, unfortunately the reality is that while there’s been huge progress made in the fight against AIDS, there still remains a huge amount of more to do,” said Dr. Amir Shroufi, deputy medical coordinator for MSF in South Africa. 

The international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, also known by the acronym, MSF, recently launched a series of films entitled “See What We See” on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

The films highlight the reality that the fight against HIV/AIDS is not over -- despite important achievements.  The film series features first-hand accounts of patients and doctors in South Africa, Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Asian country, Myanmar. The reports describe problems treating HIV in the field, while highlighting innovative tools and strategies that work in combating the disease. 

“Every minute, a young woman is infected with HIV,” said Dr. Shroufi, “and AIDS remains the biggest burden of disease here in South Africa and in many other African countries. And we know that worldwide, it’s thought to be the biggest burden of disease among women in the ages of 25 to 44.” He takes those numbers from a World Health Organization report.

Shroufi emphasized the huge numbers of people still in need of treatment who don’t have access to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART). , Some countries who have done well in improving access to treatment but others have done poorly in giving access to the drug therapy.

In South Africa, for example, there has been a huge scale-up in the past two years, reaching approximately 2.4 million people.

“It’s been a huge achievement.  It’s not without gaps,” Shroufi said. One of the weaknesses in South Africa is the supply chain. “In a lot of places around the country, there have been stock-outs of essential medicine,” he said. “But it’s a country that’s shown a lot of commitment to the fight against HIV.”

Congo not making HIV drug therapies available

The Democratic Republic of Congo is highlighted in the film series as one country that is not doing well in providing needed ARTs.

“It was estimated in a paper in ‘Science’ in 2012, that only about 12 percent of people in need of Anti-Retroviral Therapy actually have access to it. The job of getting the medicine to people who need it really has not been done in some places,” the MSF doctor explained.

In most countries around the world, new HIV infections are going down.  However, in other countries new infections are rising, such as in Lesotho. 

“Lesotho has one of the highest adult prevalence’s anywhere in the world, and we think the new infections in the country, unfortunately, are rising,” said Shroufi.    

Shroufi said MSF thinks there are a number of community models that can help provide access more effectively than the traditional city hospital.

“For those people to do well, models such as community art groups,… clubs where people living with HIV become experts in the condition (and) work with each other” are a more convenient model. He said community groups help to collect medicine for each other, reducing the amount of time spent going to clinics. Such community models are being adopted increasingly in many countries because they are effective.

“Those kinds of models, we think, are very, very important,” said Shroufi.