Ontario Hospital Association Sending Health Care Workers to Lesotho To Help Begin Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS Treatment Program
The Ontario Hospital Association plans to send Canadian health care workers to the small African country of Lesotho over the next few months to "kick start" the country's "desperately needed" antiretroviral drug program for HIV/AIDS patients, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports (Nolen, Globe and Mail, 8/7). About 31% of Lesotho's adult population is estimated to be HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/16). The country last month launched a national HIV/AIDS treatment program that aims to have 28,000 patients on antiretrovirals by the end of 2005. Currently, fewer than 2,000 of the 60,000 people who are eligible for treatment under the government's program receive medications, according to the Globe and Mail. Although Lesotho's political commitment to combating the disease is "almost unmatched" in the region, the government is trying to improve its understaffed health care system and fund its antiretroviral drug program, the Globe and Mail reports. "There are lots of challenges around our capacity," Lesotho Health Minister Motloheloa Phooko said, adding, "Can we really put the program on, or are we just putting castles in the sky? But we have no choice."
OHA members have met with hospital workers, caregivers and government representatives in Lesotho to ascertain how medical volunteers from Ontario can help the country run its HIV/AIDS treatment program, the Globe and Mail reports. "You will be taking them through the extreme push of putting people into treatment and giving them hope, while you give the government time to do the education," Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said in a meeting with OHA members. He added, "They're desperate to make it work. They just need help." However, there are "serious" challenges to implementing the initiative, including funding, language barriers and agreement on length of stay commitments, according to the Globe and Mail. Lesotho hospital administrators have said they would like Canadian volunteers to remain in the country for six months to two years, but OHA has said that shorter stays of three months are more "realistic," the Globe and Mail reports. Some Canadian health care workers may be overwhelmed by the large number of critically ill patients, and some may "encounter resistance at home" from managers of already short-staffed hospitals, according to the Globe and Mail. "But there is such a strong value in Canada around the sense that we're part of this challenge, we're not separate from it," Hume Martin, president of the Rouge Valley Health System, said, adding, "It's the responsibility of leaders in the profession to focus on where we can do it locally and collectively" (Globe and Mail, 8/7).