HIV-positive patients to get ARV therapy for first
KABUL, 7 January 2009 (IRIN) - Forty of the 504
people diagnosed with
HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan will be provided with
standard antiretroviral therapy for the first time, as
efforts are made to boost control of the killer
disease, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has
"We expect WHO [the World Health Organization] to
have imported ARVs [antiretrovirals] by the end of
January. We will give them to 40 already identified
patients," Saif ur-Rehman, head of the national
HIV/AIDS programme at the MoPH, told IRIN.
"We have earmarked US$50,000 for the initial
procurement and will allocate more in future," Rehman
said. The country is introducing the ARVs thanks to
financial assistance from various donors. In addition
to the 504
HIV-positive cases, a further 2,000-2,500 are
suspected of carrying the virus nationwide.
The MoPH said the 40, who were selected on the
basis of their HIV/AIDS status, needs and other
criteria, will also receive guidance on how to use the
Three antiretroviral drugs will be used to suppress
the virus and stop the progression of
AIDS, according to WHO. "Huge reductions have been
seen in death rates and suffering when use is made of
a potent ARV regimen," it said.
The drugs will be freely distributed - initially in
Kabul and Herat provinces - and more patients could be
entitled to them in future.
Dispensation will be determined in consultation
with WHO and international NGOs. Health workers will
be trained to supervise treatment.
ARVs are unaffordable for the vast majority of
those with HIV/AIDS, health officials say. ARVs are
not generally available, and it is difficult to
determine - because of stigma surrounding the disease
- whether people living with HIV/AIDS have access to
ARVs via the private sector.
Afghanistan launched its national HIV/AIDS control
programme in 2003 and has received pledges of over
US$30 million from donors up to 2013.
Potential for HIV spread
Afghanistan is a relative latecomer in terms of
introducing ARVs to fight HIV/AIDS. The number of
formally registered cases is among the lowest in the
world, but the potential for further HIV infections is
there: armed conflict, lack of awareness of HIV/AIDS,
lack of access to basic social services such as
education and health, rising intravenous drug
addiction, and the poor social status of women,
"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 workers said there was no room for
complacency as the disease could spread quickly, as it
has in some other poorly developed countries.
MoPH officials and aid workers note donor efforts
but say limited technical capacity to make best use of
the funds is "a major challenge". Many are hoping the
Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) will fill the
national capacity building gap. UNAIDS plans to open
an office in the country in 2009.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
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the views of the United Nations or its agencies.