Zambian Health Official Cites Gaps in Health Infrastructure as Obstacle to Antiretroviral Programs
Problems with the country's health infrastructure have prevented Zambia from importing antiretroviral drugs to treat people with HIV/AIDS, Zambian Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Gavin Silwamba said in a Reuters interview. Silwamba said that several things must be done before Zambia has the capacity to administer antiretroviral treatment. Laboratory equipment must be updated, medical staff must be trained to administer and handle the drugs and storage facilities must be created, he said. He added that issues surrounding patient reactions to different medicines must also be examined. The government is working on a budget for a program that would boost the country's health care infrastructure, but such measures will likely cost "millions of dollars," he said. Silwamba said that the Zambian government had struck an agreement with an unnamed pharmaceutical company that would allow the country to provide antiretroviral therapy to its citizens at a cost of $25 per person per month, although he acknowledged that this price was still "way out of the reach" of most Zambians. He stated that the country has received another offer that would allow it to provide treatment for $300 per person per year, but officials are still negotiating for additional price reductions. The Zambian government is looking at ways to provide antiretroviral drugs for free to people who cannot afford the $25 per month price tag. Private pharmacies in Zambia currently import antiretroviral drugs, but these treatments cost between $600 and $2,000 per month. Twenty percent of Zambians are HIV-positive (Shacinda, Reuters, 3/28).
Zambian Clinic Opens
Meanwhile, the Zambian health group Society for Family Health opened the country's first independent, low-cost HIV testing and counseling center last week, One World Africa reports. The New Start Center provides HIV counseling and testing at a cost of approximately 25 cents, prices that are "low even in a country where up to 80% of the population lives on less than $1 a day," One World Africa reports. The results of the tests, which remain confidential, are available the same day as they are conducted and are usually ready within 30 minutes. Catherine Phiri, editor of AIDSChannel, said, "It's a real breakthrough that testing is affordable and you don't have to wait overnight to get your results." Phiri said that young people, who are typically at higher risk of HIV infection, will be "encouraged" to get tested because the clinic is in a commercial center, rather than a hospital. Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda was recently the first client to undergo an HIV test at the clinic. The clinic represents part of a wider effort to encourage more Zambians to get tested for HIV and "break the silence" surrounding the disease (Dale, One World Africa, 3/27).