MSF welcomes announcement to increase AIDS treatment

An estimated 2.2 million Kenyans (13% of the population) are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, with 500 to 700 people dying each day. "In the face of AIDS, the only responsible action is to treat patients in danger of dying," - Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, president, MSF (France).

Nairobi, 25th April - The international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcomes the announcement by the National AIDS/STD Control Programme (NASCOP) of the Kenyan Ministry of Health that it will endeavour to treat 20% of the AIDS patients in need of anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment by 2005, and 50-60% of those in need by 2008.

NASCOP Deputy-Director Dr. Mary Wangai announced the new target figure at a symposium on AIDS treatment in Nairobi organized by MSF. The current estimate of Kenyans in need of ARV treatment stands at 220,000. This means that the government should have over 40,000 people under treatment by 2005. Dr. Wangai also announced that the government will start with ARV treatment in 15 public health facilities.

Participants in the symposium called on all stakeholders to set aside reservations about treatment with antiretroviral medicines in Africa, and to act now to increase such treatment. The symposium was organized by MSF and involved government officials, researchers, business and insurance representatives, health organizations and representatives of people living with AIDS.

Entitled "HIV/AIDS Treatment in Kenya: The Will and the Way", the symposium focused on the barriers to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in Kenya, and discussed practical solutions. Special emphasis was given to how treatment can be scaled up to include patients in desperate need of ARV treatment.

An estimated 2.2 million Kenyans (13% of the population) are infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, with 500 to 700 people dying each day. "In the face of AIDS, the only responsible action is to treat patients in danger of dying," said Dr Jean-Hervé Bradol, president of the French section of MSF. Kenyan patients should be able to access life-saving ARV treatment, which often enables patients to resume their activities and live an almost normal life.

There have been many reservations with regards to widescale ARV treatment in Africa, as the continent has been said to lack the necessary medical infrastructure. However, several projects, including those ran by MSF, have demonstrated that it is possible to treat people with AIDS even in resource-poor settings. Unfortunately, only an estimated 7000 people in Kenya receive potentially life-saving ARV treatment, which represents but a infinitesimal number of those in need of such treatment.

One of the important impediments to expanding AIDS treatment in Kenya is the price of ARVs, especially brand-name ARVs, which are beyond the means of most Kenyans. Today there are generics drugs at the cost of around Ksh 15,800 (US$209) per patient per year, a price up to 5 times cheaper than brand-name drugs available at discount prices, but still unaffordable to most Kenyans who need them. Last year, a new law made it possible for generic drugs to be imported into Kenya. But there are still barriers to the wide use of cheaper ARVs in Kenya. Most generics still await registration by the Kenyan regulatory authority, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board. There is also an urgent need for a national treatment policy.

To effectively fight AIDS and save the millions at risk of dying, MSF calls on the Kenyan government to address these issues and on more actors in the public and private sectors to take decisive action and expand treatment of AIDS patients.