Start of first free AIDS treatment programme in Ethiopia

Joint efforts of MSF and Tigray Regional Health bureau bring ARVs to Humera.
While initiatives to introduce ARVs have commenced in other parts of Ethiopia, Humera is a remote area with a relatively mobile and vulnerable population that is unable to access and pay for the treatment available in major cities in other parts of the country.
Addis Ababa - This week the international medical relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Tigray Regional Health Bureau have launched the first program of free treatment with antiretroviral drugs (ARV) for HIV/AIDS patients in Ethiopia. There are 13 Patients in Humera's 'Kahsay Abera' hospital who have started to receive their medicines. The new ARV program is part of the commitment by the Ethiopian government and MSF to increase the availability of ARV treatment to patients in need of it. "We are very excited about the start of this part of the program. In close cooperation with the regional and federal authorities we have shown it's possible to bring ARV to Humera. We hope to increase the numbers of beneficiaries soon and also to set an example in Ethiopia of a treatment program that others could learn from and emulate," said Mr. Rik Nagelkerke, Head of Mission for MSF in Ethiopia. While initiatives to introduce ARVs have commenced in other parts of Ethiopia, Humera is a remote area with a relatively mobile and vulnerable population that is unable to access and pay for the treatment available in major cities in other parts of the country. Humera has a number of high-risk groups due to the presence of large numbers of single men including migrant workers, attracting many commercial sex workers to the area. In addition, preparations are under way to open the road to North-Sudan creating a potential HIV/AIDS corridor to the east of the Tigray region. On top of that, Humera is located in a lowland area with tropical diseases like kala azar, which can lead to complex co-infections with HIV/AIDS. ARV drugs have proven successful in slowing down the effects of AIDS, sometimes to the extent of virtually taking away the effects of the disease. The patient can regain a more normal life; continue to work and function in society and the family. The launch of the ARV program was marked by a dinner Saturday night in Humera, the extreme north-west corner of Ethiopia, during which Kindu, the first patient who started ARV treatment on 9 January 2004, spoke about how critically ill he had been only 17 days ago, bedridden in the Humera hospital and how he had regained his appetite after starting ARV. Provision of ARV treatment involves extensive follow-up and support. The Humera program will initially be restricted to patients who live in the woreda, who have been extensively assessed to select those who are in most urgent need of treatment. Inclusion criteria include their understanding and ability to follow the medical instructions. The patients also have gone through an extensive pre-treatment counseling period. The selection of patients is guided by a panel consisting of representatives from the Bureau of Health, a local patient-support group, a local women's group, and MSF. MSF believes that it is time to speed up AIDS treatment in Africa. MSF already runs successful ARV programs in the DR Congo, Malawi, Kenya, South-Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Burundi and Burkina Faso. In Ethiopia, where the proportions of the epidemic are huge, widespread use of ARV treatment can make a significant difference. According to the UN in Ethiopia an estimated 5.000 people are infected every week, with nearly three million people infected in total. In addition to the new ARV-treatment program, MSF supports Humera hospital with voluntary counseling and testing services, management of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), treatment of opportunistic infections for AIDS patients, a food support program for AIDS patients that visit the hospital, a program of preventive HIV/AIDS sensitization and outreach, and a program to treat kala azar. MSF hopes to open additional ARV-treatment programs in Ethiopia as soon as possible.