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Report: AIDS Treatment Targets Hampered by Lack of Access to Drugs

Global AIDS treatment will fall far short of a target to have five million people in Africa being treated in the next few years. A new report reveals that the continued lack of access to drugs by many of the world's impoverished people is the cause of the shortfall. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA from London.

The report by the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition analyzed AIDS treatment in 17 countries, nine of them in Africa. In its report "Missing the Target", it found that free HIV treatment is not reaching people in many poor countries.

It said, while increasing numbers of people are being treated for HIV, there remains serious challenges with marginalized people, inequitable access to care for rural populations and children, a lack of transportation, the stigma of being diagnosed, and the high cost of drugs.

Although 700,000 more people with HIV received treatment in 2007, the pace needs to accelerate, the report said. Tripling the annual growth rate of treatment access is necessary to meet the goals set by the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

In June, the G-8 set a target of providing AIDS drugs during the next few years to approximately five million people in Africa.

A teleconference was held with authors of the report from Uganda, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.

The Malawian contributor to the report said some progress has been made but there are still a lot of challenges. Martha Kwataine said about 85,000 out of the 220,000 who need treatment are now getting it.

She added that access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs should be expanded.

Kwataine also said because of poor working conditions and pay, Malawi is experiencing a critical shortage of health workers who are emigrating. And she says in an effort to retain workers, hospitals are charging more for services such as the CD-4 blood count.

"We also we also got from people living with HIV and AIDS that some of them are actually charged user fees to access a CD-4 count. But most of the hospitals they do not have CD-4 counting machines. So because people can only start accessing [AIDS retroviral treatment] after going through CD-4 count, you can have other people dying because they are delaying to start [treatment] because have not had a chance to go through a CD-4 count," she said.

Zimbabwe, because of its political and economic problems has unique challenges. Despite its success in lowering its rate of HIV infection, the government is failing to meet its own targets.

"Zimbabwe is one of the few African countries that are internally manufacturing [retroviral drugs], albeit on a small scale. Unfortunately it is undermined by foreign currency shortages, because most of the components that are required to manufacture drugs internally require foreign currency to be purchased from outside the country," said Matilda Moyo, who co-authored the Zimbabwe portion of the report.

The report also asks UNAIDS and the World Health Organization to be more outspoken when national programs are mismanaged, targets are not met or vulnerable populations neglected. It also urges the agencies to develop plans to eliminate drug shortages, provide CD-4 and other testing technologies, and integrate HIV prevention and TB services.