CAR: Government struggles to reduce HIV/Aids prevalence

BANGUI, 11 March (IRIN) - The Central African Republic (CAR) hopes to reduce the HIV/Aids prevalence in the country from the current 14.8 percent to 5 percent in the next five years, President Ange-Felix Patasse said on Saturday.
According to research carried out in December 2002 by the Institut Pasteur in the capital, Bangui, and the national anti-HIV/Aids committee, HIV/Aids prevalence increased from 14 per cent to 14.8 per cent in 15 months.

"I am very frightened by this figure" Patasse said when he laid the foundation stone for the construction of the US $230,000 Centre de Tritherapie Ambulatoire, an anti-HIV/Aids treatment, research and training centre, expected to begin operations in six months. "By a relentless struggle, we hope to reduce that prevalence rate to 5 percent in five years and to less than 2 percent in seven years," Patasse said.

"The laying down of the foundation stone for the CTA is a decisive step towards the implementation of the global programme of caring for HIV/Aids-infected people in the CAR," Health Minister Joseph Kalite said during the ceremony. He said the government was concerned about the current statistics of HIV prevalence.

The centre under construction is part of the easy-access-to the anti-retroviral (ARV) programme launched by Patasse in July 1999. Its construction was delayed due to repeated conflict in the country.

In January, the government bought land worth 30 million CFA francs ($49,180), which it placed at the disposal of the health ministry and its partners to construct the HIV/Aids centre. The ministry's partners include Hanuman, a CAR-French anti-HIV/AIDS NGO, the French Red Cross Society and Merck Sharp Dhomes (MSD) Foundation, a pharmaceutical laboratory based in France. The MSD Foundation contributed in August 2002 to the reduction of ARV prices from 600,000 francs CFA to 28,000 francs CFA.

Apart from providing the land, the government also disbursed 120 million francs CFA for the building of the centre's first floor, while discussions are under way with MSD Foundation for the disbursement of 50 million francs CFA for the construction of the second floor.

"We are expecting the visit of the chairman of the French Red Cross to know what would be its contribution" Laurent Belec, the chairman and founder of Hanuman told IRIN on Saturday.

He said the NGO would be in charge of providing ARV to the centre and training the centre's staff. "The therapies that will be chosen will cost 25,000 to 30,000 CFA francs per patient per month," Belec said, adding that there would be four categories of patients, depending on their financial means and their social situation.

The first category will be those who can afford to pay the total cost of the dosage, the second will be those who will be allowed to pay 10,000 to 15,000 francs CFA, the third those who will be allowed to pay 5,000 francs CFA and the last category will be those deemed indigent and allowed access to treatment free of charge.

Belec said the CTA building, whose construction is scheduled to start late this month, would start with 2,500 HIV patients still capable of moving, and treat between 1,000 and 1,500 of them. The centre will treat the patients according to medical, clinical, biological, social and behavioural criteria.

Belec said the two-storey centre, to be built on 400 square metres, would have its own pharmacy, laboratory, conference room, offices for the staff, consultation rooms and a four-bed hospitalisation room. Being just a few metres from the University of Bangui's medical faculty and the Hospital Communautaire, the centre would also be a research institution and would be expected to accept trainees from the faculty of medicine.

In the meantime, French health officials and the CAR health ministry are involved in discussions over a inter-hospital programme worth 500,000 euros ($550,450). The programme will be facilitated by the Ensemble pour un Solidarite Therapeutique et Hospitaliere en Reseau (ESTHER).

Belec, the programme's coordinator, told IRIN that if the two health ministers signed an agreement in April, ESTHER would immediately involve itself in the easy-access to ARV programme, and train the medical personnel on HIV/AIDS care and home-care for HIV-infected people in Bangui, the CAR capital, where, according to Belec, 50 to 60 people die of AIDS daily.


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