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15 000 Aids victims likely to die in Congo, says MSF

Saleh Mwanamilongo

An MSF report claims 15 000 Aids victims in Congo will likely die waiting for ARVs in the next three years because of "horrific" health care access.

Some 15 000 Aids victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo will likely die waiting for lifesaving drugs in the next three years, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned in a report describing “horrific” health care access.

About 85% of Aids patients in need of anti-retroviral (ARV) medication are not getting any, according to the organisation.

Medical coordinator Anja De Weggheleire said on Wednesday that the estimate of 15 000 dead in three years is horrifying but represents only the tip of the iceberg since most victims don’t even know they are infected.

“Many will die in silence and neglect,” she said.

The doctors blamed Congo’s government for giving little priority to fighting Aids and the withdrawal of donors. The leading supplier of ARV drugs in Congo, the Global Fund, is sharply reducing funding because countries that finance it have not kept their promises.

‘Condemned to die’
This pullback by donors “is directly threatening the lives of thousands of people in [Congo],” the statement added.

It called for Congo’s government to meet its commitment to provide free treatment to people living with HIV and Aids, and for donors to immediately mobilise resources “to ensure that patients waiting for ARV treatment are not condemned to die”.

Congo’s failure to address the crisis could be creating a generation of new Aids patients.

MSF said only 1% of pregnant women infected with HIV have access to the drugs that prevent them passing on the virus to their babies. As a result, about one-third of exposed babies will be born with HIV, it said.

An excessively high number of Aids patients arrive at the hospital with advanced illnesses and serious complications that create unacceptable suffering, all easily prevented with early ARV treatment, the doctors said.

Reminiscent of time before ARVs
“What I’m seeing in [Congo] has not existed elsewhere for years,” De Weggheleire said. “The situation here reminds me of the time before any anti-retroviral treatment was available.”

More than 1-million of Congo’s 70-million people are estimated to be infected with the Aids virus, with 350 000 of them in need of ARVs. Only 44 000 are receiving treatment, the doctors said, giving the Central African nation a coverage rate of just 15%, equal only to that of Sudan and war-torn Somalia on the continent.

Congo is still recovering from decades of dictatorship and back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2005. High levels of corruption have prevented the country’s massive mineral wealth from being translated into better lives for its people.

MSF was the first organisation to provide free ARV treatment in Congo, in 2003, and now treats more than 10% of all patients receiving the drugs in the country, including 20% of those on ARVs in Kinshasa, the capital.—Sapa-AP

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