Government ready to distribute HIV/AIDS drugs

Ethiopia is on the brink of distributing the country’s first ever anti-retroviral drugs for treating HIV/AIDS – but only to people who can afford them.

The life-saving drugs – which have been imported from India – will sell for around US $40 per person per month, according to the government’s anti-AIDS task force on Tuesday.

Negatu Mereke, who heads the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (HAPCO), told a news conference that the drugs would be distributed “in a very short period of time.”

Some 300 healthcare workers have been trained to deliver the anti-retroviral drugs, which have now been imported, and sites identified for distribution.

Dr Yigeremu Abebe, an executive board member of HAPCO, said that Ethiopia couldn’t afford to distribute the orally-taken drugs for free to people infected with the virus.

“The government cannot buy drugs because it is not affordable from the treasury," he explained. The country’s annual health budget is around US $120 million a year.

“This is a low-income country and as you know the majority of the population cannot afford these,” Dr Yigeremu added.

But, he said, the cash-strapped government was looking into starting anti-AIDS programmes for donors who are willing to support people living with HIV/AIDS who need the drugs.

It is also looking at reducing the price through negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and also encouraging the private sector to produce generic drugs.

It also emerged that around a third of people seeking voluntary testing for the virus are HIV-positive, according to the head of the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

CDC has tested around 6,000 people at its voluntary and counselling testing (VCT) centres in the capital Addis Ababa.

“Most of the people coming to the VCT centres are worried because they had risky sex or exposure to the virus,” Dr Tadess Wuhib, CDC’s country director, told IRIN.

“Voluntary testing is very important," he stressed, urging prominent and high profile figures to get tested “because it is a major prevention strategy".