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1 percent of Africans with AIDS get drugs

Only 1 percent of Africans with AIDS get drugs
Monday, September 22, 2003 Posted: 9:01 PM EDT (0101 GMT)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Reuters) -- Only 1 percent of the millions of Africans who need anti-AIDS drugs receive them, said a report released Monday, one day after a U.N. AIDS expert called the crisis "the grotesque obscenity of the modern world."

The report by the World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, urged developing countries to make AIDS drugs affordable by manufacturing their own anti-retroviral generics --cheap copies-- or passing laws to make it possible for them to be imported.

"It is still a big challenge for countries to be involved in accessing antiretrovirals and at low cost and quality," Sophie-Marie Scouflaire, a lead author of the report, told a news conference at the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa.

"It is possible to access treatment for less than one dollar a day ... if there is a strong policy within the country," she added.

Pharmaceutical companies, which were to release a report to the United Nations in New York Monday, said at least 76,300 Africans received cut-price HIV/AIDS drugs from six Western drug makers in June of his year, up from 35,500 in March 2002.

But Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president of external affairs at U.S.-based Merck & Co Inc, said a big gap remained.

"There is still an unacceptable gap between those who need care and those who have access to medicines for HIV/AIDS. (But) there has been progress," he said.

MSF said the average cost of the cheapest generic anti-retroviral is around $300 per year. In most African countries, more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

Millions of orphans
About 7,000 people are on antiretrovirals treatment in Kenya, 3,000 of whom buy the drugs for themselves. The rest get free treatment from organizations like MSF and charities.

According to estimates from the United Nations AIDS group, 38.6 million adults were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide at the end of 2002, an estimated 29.4 million in sub-Saharan Africa.

In some nations the average life expectancy has fallen to 35 years because of AIDS, and an estimated 11 million children have lost one or both parents to the disease.

The charity Save the Children said in a statement that by 2010 there would be 40 million orphans of AIDS and other diseases aged below 15 in the sub-Saharan region.

"The stakes could not be higher. The effects of AIDS in Africa are eroding decades of development efforts," UNAIDS said in a report released Sunday.

But the WHO/MSF report found only 50,000 out of an estimated 4.1 million people urgently in need of ARVs in sub-Saharan Africa are on the drugs that reduce the level of the virus in the body and prolong life.

The report comes a day after the U.N. special envoy for AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis sharply criticized the United States and its allies for spending $200 billion on terrorism and the Iraq war, while doing little to combat a disease that threatens an entire continent.

Calling the situation "the grotesque obscenity of the modern world," he said, "I am enraged by the behavior of the rich powers."

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