‘NewsHour’ Continues Examination of AIDS in Africa, Addresses Distribution of Antiretroviral Drugs in Botswana
In the third episode of a "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" four-part series on AIDS in Africa, reporter Elizabeth Farnsworth describes the Botswana government's efforts to distribute antiretroviral drugs to its people. In March, Botswana President Festus Mogae announced that the government would try to provide anti-HIV drugs to all who need them, regardless of their ability to pay. He also created a National AIDS Council, a multi-sectoral national committee that is working to install similar committees in each town and suburb. In addition, mining giant Debswana, owned in part by the government, announced it would subsidize 90% of patient costs for employees living with HIV. Farnsworth explained that the disease has become a "growing threat" in the country's largest diamond mine, as the mine is "highly mechanized and dependent on skilled labor." But with 30% of the workforce HIV-positive, the company may lose many of its skilled laborers to the disease. Dr. Kobus Erasmus explained, "We're going to be in trouble in this mine if we don't treat them. ... We're the first company that's going to treat HIV patients on a large scale."
Help from Pharmaceutical Firms
National and corporate efforts to treat Botswanans have been assisted by drug discount offers from large multinational pharmaceutical firms like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. Merck and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have begun a $100 million project to distribute the drugs widely in Botswana. The Harvard AIDS Institute has also partnered with the Botswana government to research HIV type C at the public hospital in Gabarone and is providing clinical care to patients with HIV/AIDS. The program's "goal is to help develop models for providing antiretrovirals safely." President Mogae said, "The health budget is growing by leaps and bounds. ... It's maybe three or four times what it was three years ago, and we were under no delusion that in another three years, it will be double or triple what it is today. Without help, we couldn't possibly manage." But Dr. Banu Khan of the National AIDS Coordinating Agency noted, "It's not just the price of the drugs. It's the overall package, the testing for viral load, for the CD4 count ... these are costly and also the training of health care workers to prescribe these drugs." Further, Khan added that "if you don't correctly administer the drugs in the right combination, and you don't counsel people to take it correctly and for a long time, then the virus is able to develop resistance and the drugs are not that effective." A "high tech laboratory" to analyze patient response and adherence to the drugs is being built in Gabarone with funding from the government, Harvard and Bristol-Myers Squibb, but Farnsworth noted that "more facilities will be necessary" (Farnsworth, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 5/16). To read the full transcript of the report, click here. To listen to the segment in RealAudio, click here. Note: You must have RealPlayer to listen to this report.