AIDS in Africa ‘Greatest Challenge’ to Health; WHO To Announce Antiretroviral Drug Program by Dec. 1, Report Says
HIV/AIDS is the "greatest challenge facing us now," World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Jong-Wook Lee said yesterday at the opening of the WHO's regional committee for Africa meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, SAPA/Independent Online reports. Lee added that WHO plans to announce a comprehensive, worldwide antiretroviral treatment strategy on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, 2003 (SAPA/Independent Online, 9/1). Lee, speaking to representatives from the WHO African Region, which meets annually to review and set WHO public health policy for the region, said that African countries will be "major partners" in the WHO's "three by five" plan of providing antiretroviral drugs to three million people by 2005, according to Xinhua News Agency (Xinhua News Agency, 9/1). According to the 2002 annual report of the WHO regional director released yesterday, half of the continent's population lacks access to essential medicines, the South African Press Association reports (South African Press Association, 9/1). In addition, only 50,000 of the 4.5 million HIV-positive people in Africa who need antiretroviral therapy have access to the medicines, the report says (Graham, Agence France-Presse, 9/1). Lee welcomed a WTO agreement that will enable developing countries to import generic versions of antiretroviral drugs but said that the program will fail unless poor countries improve their health care systems, Reuters reports (Harding, Reuters, 9/1). "Based on this, we can work further, so every person who needs medicines can have access to them at an affordable price," he said (Agence France-Presse, 9/1). The report also found that only 6% of African people have access to voluntary HIV counseling, and only 1% of pregnant women have access to services to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission (South African Press Association, 9/1).
Lack of Trained Health Workers
Lee said that Africa needs highly skilled health care workers in order for WHO to reach its 2005 goal of treating three million HIV-positive people. "Health systems depend most of all on skilled and dedicated personnel, and here we face big challenges, particularly in this region, which, on top of everything else, suffers heavy losses to the brain drain," Lee said (Agence France-Presse, 9/1). The report found that the migration of health care workers to other nations has caused the quality of health care to decrease "significantly" in Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the six countries included in the study, according to the South African Press Association (South African Press Association, 9/1). Lee said that WHO plans to work with countries on "innovative methods to train, deploy and supervise health workers," according to Agence France-Presse. Habib Doutoum, interim social affairs commissioner for the African Union, said that countries to which African health workers migrated should provide some compensation for the loss of staff, according to Agence France-Presse. Doutoum said that such compensation, as well as incentives to retain workers, are needed in order to stop trained health care professionals from being "a free commodity for developed countries" (Agence France-Presse, 9/1).