CAR: President lays foundation stone for HIV/AIDS treatment centre

BANGUI, 11 March (IRIN) - Central African Republic (CAR) President Ange-Felix Patasse has laid the foundation stone of a US $230,000 HIV-AIDS treatment and research centre due to become operational in six months' time.
The centre, to be known as the Centre de Tritherapie Ambulatoire, will also train specialists in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

"The laying 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," Joseph Kalite, the minister of health, said during the ceremony on Saturday.

He said the government was concerned about the current HIV prevalence rate of about 15 percent.

"I am very frightened by that figure," President Patasse added. "By pursuing a relentless war, we hope to reduce that prevalence rate to 5 percent in five years and to less than 2 percent in seven years."

The centre is a part of Patasse's programme, launched in July 1999, to provide easy access to anti-retroviral drugs. But construction of the centre was delayed by fighting in the country.

In January, the government bought a plot of land for 30 million francs CFA (US $49,180) and put it at the disposal of the Ministry of Health and its partners, among whom are Hanuman, a CAR-French anti HIV/AIDS NGO, the French Red Cross Society and the Merck Sharp Dhomes (MSD) Foundation, a French pharmaceutical laboratory.

Apart from providing the land, the government has also disbursed 120 million francs towards building the centre's first floor. Discussions are going on with MSD Foundation for the disbursement of 50 million francs for the second floor.

"We are awaiting the visit of the chairman of the French Red Cross so that we shall be able to learn what its contribution will be," Laurent Belec, the chairman and founder of Hanuman, told IRIN on Saturday.

He said treatment would be offered to four categories of patients, depending on their social status. The first category would pay 25,000 to 30,000 francs per patient per month, the second 10,000 to 15,000 francs, the third 5,000 francs, and the last category would get free treatment.

Belec said the centre, whose construction is due to start in March, would cater for up to 2,500 patients still able to move. The building will have a pharmacy, a laboratory, a conference room, staff offices, consultation rooms, and a four-bed hospitalisation room.

Meanwhile, French and CAR health ministry officials are discussing the possibility of a 500,000-euro ($550,450) French aid programme for HIV care. The money will be administered by Ensemble pour un Solidarite Therapeutique et Hospitaliere en Reseau, known as ESTHER, which is an inter-hospital programme between French and African facilites.

Belec said that once the aid programme was signed, ESTHER would immediately take part in CAR's programme to gain easy access to HIV drugs, train medical personnel in HIV care and home care for infected people in Bangui, where, Belec said, 50 to 60 people died of the disease each day.


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