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Ugandan Doctor Fears Ground May be Lost Against HIV/AIDS if US and other Funding is not Increased

A Ugandan doctor says ground may be lost in the fight against HIV/AIDS, if U.S. and other funding for treatment programs is not increased.

Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, director and founder of the Joint Clinical Research Center in Kampala, testified this week before Congress about the effects of flat-lined U.S. funding for HIV/AIDS. His center receives much of its funding from PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Two fold message

“The first part was to thank the American people for a highly successful PEPFAR program that has been running since 2003,” he says, “and secondly, to request that the program should be supported further because currently in the times of (a) global financial crunch the budget is currently flatlined.”

Mugyenyi says while there’s been some increase in funding, it’s not enough to keep pace with the number of new patients.

“There are more than those who have already started on treatment. And therefore, my message was to request for continued support to Africa so that we can treat the huge numbers of people, who are still in desperate need of life-saving medicines,” he says.

Turned away

The effects of the flat funding are already being seen.

“We have some numbers of patients who are certainly being turned away from my institution. We currently do not have slots for new patients. So everybody who comes to our centers, which are spread across the country, we turn them away,” he says.

If a patient dies, then a slot opens for a new patient. “But otherwise, we are not enrolling any new patients.”

As a result of the cap on new enrollees, he says, some very needy people go without treatment. For example, pregnant women who are HIV positive.

“They wouldn’t be so many as to overwhelm the budget. We should be able to handle all of those patients who are in immediate need of treatment for their very survival,” he says.

Problem’s not going away

“The numbers, not only in Uganda, but across Africa, are still many,” he says. “In Uganda, we are treating 170,000 patients. But those who are estimated to be in need of treatment are about 350 (thousand) or more.”

Across the continent, he estimates the number of HIV/AIDS patients on anti-retroviral drugs to be about three million. “And yet those in immediate need of antiretroviral therapy are estimated to be over seven million.”

He adds, “It’s not a Ugandan-peculiar situation, but certainly there is need for increased funding.”

Mugyenyi says members of Congress were sympathetic to his situation but say they are bound by budget constraints because of the poor economy.

HIV/AIDS marches on

“If we don’t get increased support, not only from PEPFAR, but the global community, we may lose ground and start losing the impressive gains that we have achieved over the last seven years,” he says.