Zambian President Announces New Goal of Distributing AIDS Drugs to 100,000 HIV-Positive People by End of Next Year
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa on Saturday in a televised address in advance of the country's 40th anniversary of independence announced that the government aims to distribute antiretroviral drugs at no cost to 100,000 HIV-positive residents by the end of 2005, Reuters reports. Currently, about 12,000 people in the country receive antiretroviral drugs at no cost. Mwanawasa gave no cost estimate for the expansion, but the government previously has said that planned treatment programs would cost about $500 million over the next five years. Mwanawasa said that the country's $7 billion external debt has been "hampering the government's ability to respond to the AIDS crisis," but he said he would continue to "pursue stringent IMF policies to meet the criteria for a $3.8 billion debt write-off in 2005," according to Reuters/AlertNet (Shacinda, Reuters/AlertNet, 10/23).
Funding the Plan
Zambia has received "major" donations from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and Japan earlier this month announced that it is increasing its AIDS relief funding for Zambia, the New York Times reports. However, "it is not clear" how Zambia will pay for the remainder of the $500 million program, according to the Times. The government once hoped to have 70,000 HIV-positive people on antiretroviral drugs by the end of the year, but Mwanawasa said Saturday that recent economic problems have "reduced the capacity for the government to maintain quality health services." He said that "the impact on the health care delivery system is enormous, with 50% of hospital beds occupied by patients with HIV- and AIDS-related illnesses," adding, "There is not enough money to spend on social services such as health." About 200,000 HIV-positive people in Zambia are in an advanced stage of AIDS and would benefit from antiretrovirals (Wines, New York Times, 10/25). Last week, Mwanawasa urged Zambians to get tested for HIV, saying that the epidemic will "wipe out the country" if citizens do not "take it upon themselves" to fight the disease. About 16% of the country's 11 million people are thought to be HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/19).