MSF to open Aids clinic in Hubei

"This is the first project where the poor have free access to HIV and Aids treatment," said Luc Van Leemput, the head of mission of the Belgian section of MSF, which is in charge of the project. "We're very excited indeed. There definitely are needs in China. It is important for China to have an Aids care system going. We're excited to work with the Chinese government to do this pilot project."
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) will open a treatment centre for poor people infected with HIV and suffering from Aids in Hubei province, officials from the international aid agency announced yesterday. Beginning in May or June, the centre - the first of its kind in China - will offer treatment free of charge for patients residing in Xiangfan, a city northwest of Wuhan. "This is the first project where the poor have free access to HIV and Aids treatment," said Luc Van Leemput, the head of mission of the Belgian section of MSF, which is in charge of the project. "We're very excited indeed. There definitely are needs in China. It is important for China to have an Aids care system going. We're excited to work with the Chinese government to do this pilot project." Although official statistics place the number of HIV/Aids sufferers at about 30,000, experts estimate that there are more than a million sufferers and that the figure could grow to 10 million by 2010. Although most mainland hospitals offer a variety of treatments, most sufferers are poor and receive little, if any, care because they cannot afford the expensive charges. The MSF Xiangfan clinic aims to offer a full range of treatments for up to 500 people. The clinic will employ more than a dozen staff, including two expatriate doctors. The project is jointly run with Xiangfan health officials and local doctors from the city's Centre for Disease Control. The cost of Aids treatment is high. In the US, patients pay as much as US$15,000 a year for a course of "cocktail" medicines. In Thailand, where MSF has a similar programme, Aids medicines cost up to $4,700 per patient per year. Mr Van Leemput said Aids treatment per patient on the mainland would cost substantially less than developed countries, but more than in Thailand. "The costs really depend on whether the drugs will be produced in China or not," he said. So far, the mainland has authorised only four types of Aids medicines to be produced generically. Under pressure from international pharmaceutical companies, Beijing officials are reluctant to hand out licences to produce more generic drugs. "The current number of generic drugs available in China is not enough to produce the cocktails required for effective Aids treatment," Mr Van Leemput said. Though the MSF centre in Hubei can afford to treat only 500 patients, MSF officials plan to dispense free medical care to other sufferers fighting off "opportunistic infections", such as tuberculosis and pneumonia, illnesses that attack sufferers before the full onset of Aids. Most of Xiangfan's HIV/Aids sufferers contracted the disease by selling blood at "blood stations" a few years ago. Authorities have shut the stations down, but there are now an estimated 2,000 HIV carriers in the city, although official statistics put the number at about 200.