Tropical cyclone Favio sparks concerns about ARVs

A week after tropical cyclone Favio hit Mozambique's eastern province of Inhambane, concerns are rising about how HIV-positive people in the area will access life-prolonging anti-AIDS medication.

Favio struck the central town of Vilankulos, in Vilankulos District, reportedly ripping through rooftops, uprooting trees and destroying Vilankulos Rural Hospital, the only one equipped to treat people living with HIV in the surrounding districts of Mabote, Govuro and Inhassoro.

Eunice Mucache, programme director of the Mozambican Red Cross, visited Vilankulos recently and told PlusNews that the damage caused by 180kph winds was so great that the facility could not be used. "A tent has been erected for AIDS patients, but all the patients files as well as the antiretroviral stocks and blood samples, were lost," she said.

Fewer than one thousand of the approximately 32,000 Mozambicans on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment live in Inhambane province, but 126 receive their ARVs at Vilankulos Rural Hospital, according to government data released in December 2006.

HIV infection figures for Inhambane Province are 11.7 percent, compared to a national average of 16.2 percent.

Besides the cyclone in Inhambane, Mucache said, floods along the Zambezi River, inundating parts of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia provinces, have put the government and relief agencies "on alert" regarding HIV-positive people in these areas, but so far the flooding had not interfered with ARV distribution because mostly rural areas, where few people were on treatment, had been affected.

If there were any disruption in ARV stocks, the Ministry of Health would consider sending ARVs a priority because they were key to people's lives and health, she said. An interruption in treatment can lead to the HI-virus becoming resistant to medication, hastening progress towards AIDS.

The government estimates that 119,000 people were affected by the Zambezi floods, and 93,000 by tropical cyclone Favio.

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