Medecins Sans Frontieres Launches Antiretroviral Program in Democratic Republic of CongoMedecins Sans Frontieres has begun distributing antiretroviral drugs to seven HIV-positive people in the war-torn town of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the agency said on Thursday, Reuters reports. The eastern region of the country in which Bukavu is located has experienced severe violence, including massacres and rapes, since the outbreak of war in 1998, making it extremely difficult for HIV-positive people to obtain antiretroviral drugs. The organization hopes to use the program to prove that it is possible to provide antiretroviral drugs in areas of conflict (Reuters, 10/2). Taking antiretroviral drugs in such a setting poses significant challenges because patients must take daily medication, have regular blood tests and medical checkups and learn to cope with the side effects of the drugs, Corry Kik, the MSF project coordinator in Bukavu, said, adding, "Patients also need to understand that they have to take pills for the rest of their lives, even when they don't feel ill -- a concept that is not always easy in a setting where most diseases are either cured or kill." Therefore, patient education is almost as important as the drugs themselves, Kik said. The initial seven patients in the program were selected from a pool of more than 180 patients based on criteria including residence in Bukavu, a demonstrated ability to adhere to appointments and prophylactic medications and whether the person has the support of one other individual to whom they have revealed their HIV status.
MSF plans to enroll an additional 10 patients each month, ultimately enrolling 150 patients in the program by January 2005, U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com reports (U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 10/2). MSF also plans to open a second antiretroviral drug treatment program through its HIV/AIDS program in the capital city of Kinshasa before the end of the month. MSF plans to provide antiretroviral drugs to 800 people at the two centers by 2005 (Panafrican News Agency, 10/2). The drug programs are part of a larger MSF project providing voluntary HIV testing and counseling, treatment for opportunistic infections and sexually transmitted diseases, home-based care and nutritional and psychosocial support, according to an MSF release (MSF release, 10/1). MSF said that although no accurate HIV prevalence studies have been conducted in the eastern area of DRC, the area's HIV prevalence is estimated to be about 17% based on 2003 test results from the clinic's voluntary counseling and testing center attendees, according to U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com (U.N. IRIN/AllAfrica.com, 10/2).