Antiretroviral Therapy To Be Made Available to HIV-Positive People in Afghanistan for First Time, Health Ministry Announces
For the first time, people living with HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan soon will receive antiretroviral therapy from the government, the Ministry of Health announced recently, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Forty of the 504 people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the country were selected to receive the drugs based on their medical status and need, among other criteria. It is suspected that there are an additional 2,000 to 2,500 undocumented HIV/AIDS cases nationwide.
Saif ur-Rehman, head of the national HIV/AIDS program at the health ministry, said that $50,000 has been allocated to supply the antiretrovirals and that the ministry "will allocate more in the future." The government is launching the treatment program with help from various donors, and Rehman said that the ministry expects the World Health Organization to have imported the drugs by the end of January. The drugs will be distributed at no cost in Kabul and Herat provinces initially, but more people could receive access in the future, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Consultations will be made with WHO and international not-for-profit groups to determine how the antiretrovirals are dispensed, and health care workers will be trained to oversee treatment regimens. According to health officials, Afghanistan has been slow to introduce no-cost antiretroviral therapy, and availability and access remain low. In addition, the stigma surrounding the disease makes it difficult to determine if people are accessing the drugs through the private sector. Although the number of documented HIV/AIDS cases in Afghanistan is among the lowest worldwide, there are many factors that could contribute to the spread of the disease, including a lack of awareness, conflict, the poor social status of women and rising injection drug use.
Some health care workers in the country are calling for immediate action to curb the spread of HIV, IRIN/PlusNews reports. Rehman added, "We want to tackle the existing gap between real and suspected HIV cases by 2010 so as to draw up appropriate plans and implement relevant projects." Health ministry officials and health workers have cited limited technical capacity to make use of funding and donor efforts. The national HIV/AIDS control program was launched in 2003 and has received pledges of more than $30 million up to 2013. The health ministry hopes the planned opening of a UNAIDS office in the country in 2009 will help fill the gap in national capacity (IRIN/PlusNews, 1/7).