AIDS Care Watch

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Civil Society Organisations Applaud African Leaders on Abuja Commitments

Press Release issued by the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV and AIDS, 5 May 2006


ABUJA, NIGERIA--In a bold move, African leaders meeting in Abuja have unequivocally demonstrated their commitment to accelerating access to HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria services in the next five years.

Meeting in Abuja this week, at the Heads of State Summit to review progress towards the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on ATM and other related infectious diseases, leaders adopted ambitious continental targets for implementation of programmes addressing the three diseases.

On the last day of the 3-day Special Summit on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria organised by the African Union, heads of state drew up two strongly worded documents; the Abuja Call for Accelerated Action Towards Universal access to HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria, and Africa's Common Position to the High Level meeting of the UNGASS on AIDS.

These documents spell out the areas in which Africa will seek to extend universal access to prevention, care, support and treatment for HIV-related services. The key outcomes of the Summit include commitments to reach:

* at least 80% of pregnant women have access to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT);
* 5 million AIDS orphans and 80% of orphans and vulnerable children have access to basic services;
* at least 80% of those in need, especially women and children, have access to HIV/AIDS treatment, including antiretroviral therapy as well as care and support;
* ensure that at least 80% of target populations have access to voluntary testing and counselling services
* at least 80% of target populations have access to and are able to use condoms for HIV prevention
* 100% of HIV positive TB patients have access to antiretroviral treatment and access to HIV testing and counselling services

* clear and inclusive mechanisms for the establishment of national targets by December 2006
* a well-articulated mechanism for jointly reviewing progress at the regional level in 2008
* a strong role for national parliaments as well as the pan-African Parliament in reviewing progress on implementation
* monitoring of progress by African countries to reach the 15% target for health allocations in national budgets, as agreed at the 2001 Abuja Declaration of Action

* a commitment to strengthening – in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders particularly civil society partners affected by the three diseases – planning, monitoring and evaluation of progress;
* a call to civil society within the Call for Accelerated Action, to "enhance their monitoring role" in order to operationalise the commitments made in the Abuja Declaration and to increase their own efforts in the fight against the three diseases

The Summit took on board concerns expressed by activists and officials in many developing countries since the concept of 'Universal Access' was publicly discussed by leaders of the G8 in July 2005.

According to Leonard Okello of ActionAid International, "It is quite commendable that African leaders are committing themselves very strongly to supporting universal access. This is an important demonstration of responsible leadership by our leaders and we are very proud that they have agreed to these targets and taken the concerns of civil society seriously."

Despite the good news, some observers have cautioned that the real work begins now.

As Tidiane Tall of the African Council of AIDS Service Organisations (AfriCASO) notes, "As civil society, we have learned that commitments are important but actions on the ground are even more important. We need to be vigilant - especially at the national level. Governments must know that we are watching them and we will work with them to realise these hopes and aspirations."

The outcome of the Summit demonstrates that African heads of states seek to move beyond the rhetoric of 'Universal Access' by tying themselves to ambitious but realisable goals. As Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo suggested "We have now agreed that we are going to have Universal Access. Some people talk about 80% or 90%. We are talking about 100%."

Issued by the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV and AIDS
Sisonke Msimang
Programme Manager
Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
Tel. +27 11 404 3414/ +27 83 450 7382

Omololu Falobi
Executive Director
Journalists Against AIDS – Nigeria (JAAIDS)
Tel. +234 1 7731457/ +234 9 6721744

Panadol given to Zimbabwe's Aids patients as life-saving drugs run out

The Independent, UK , By Basildon Peta in Johannesburg

4 May 2006--The HIV/Aids epidemic gripping Zimbabwe looks set to spiral further out of control because President Robert Mugabe's foundering government is running out of antiretroviral drugs.

Efforts to provide tens of thousands of people with the life-saving medicines are failing as a shortage of foreign currency prevents the National Pharmaceutical Company, Zimbabwe's chief drugs repository, from distributing the antiretrovirals (ARVs), the state-run Herald newspaper said.

"There are 20,000 people on the ARVs national programme and we have less than a month's supply of the vital drugs, and that is not encouraging," Charles Mwaramba, the company's acting director, told a parliamentary committee.

Zimbabwe's struggling health sector has been badly damaged by a severe economic crisis which has seen the inflation rate soar to 913 per cent. Shortages of foreign currency, fuel, food, water and electricity have brought the once prosperous country to its knees.

About 1.8 million of Zimbabwe's 12 million citizens are infected with HIV/Aids. Of that group, 295,000 need antiretroviral treatment immediately, but only 8,000 - less than 3 per cent - are receiving it, according to a recent report from the World Health Organisation.

With an average of 3,000 people dying each week from Aids in the country, yesterday's news that anti-retroviral drugs stocks are drying up was greeted with horror. For the estimated 1.61 million people infected with full-blown Aids, the future now looks even more bleak than before.

Many people, such as Lazarus Zhuwao, whose brother, Emmanuel, is dying of the virus, blame President Mugabe's erratic and destructive policies for making their deaths inevitable.

After his brother tested HIV positive last year, Mr Zhuwao was told by a doctor that Emmanuel should start to take antiretroviral drugs. In a telephone interview from Harare, Mr Zhuwao said he would have sold any of his meagre belongings to buy the ARVs, but none were available.

When he took Emmanuel to the main hospital in Harare, he was prescribed Panadol painkillers.
Mr Zhuwao said he was surprised by reports that Zimbabwe was running out of ARVs: "It seemed there have long been none at all," he said.

Owing to acute foreign currency shortages, Zimbabwe has been unable to import ARVs and now has roughly a month's supply left. An Aids activist for a prominent NGO, who declined to be named, said drugs donated from abroad were insufficient to cater for those in need.

"State hospitals and clinics here are death chambers. People go there to die," she said. "They [state hospitals] don't have the drugs, nor the staff to administer these drugs. People are dying like flies, particularly in the rural areas, where Aids is worsened by poverty and malnutrition."

Mr Mwaramba said yesterday that his National Pharmaceutical Company was allocated just $106,000 (£58,000) for ARVs by the central Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe between January and March, instead of the $7.4m it required.

"We understand that drugs are also competing with other items like fuel for foreign currency, but the picture is not encouraging," he said.

Zimbabwe's economy has been in freefall since President Mugabe expelled more than 4,000 white farmers and confiscated their land for re-distribution in February 2000. Most of the repatriated land is now lying fallow. Four million Zimbabweans are relying on the World Food Programme for food.