Doctor shortage hampers Asia Aids efforts

An acute shortage of doctors trained to deliver life-saving drugs to people living with HIV/Aids in Asia is severely hampering treatment efforts, a report said as the 15th International Aids Conference entered its second day on Tuesday.

India has only one trained doctor for every 10 000 people living with HIV. Of these 500 doctors, only 25 can “be considered fully trained in all aspects of HIV treatment”, said N Kumarasamy of the YRG Centre for Aids Research and Education in the southern Indian city of Madras.

There are less than 200 trained doctors available for 840 000 HIV-positive people in China, said officials from the New York-based American Foundation for Aids Research’s (Amfar) Asia network.

“With life-saving treatments slowly becoming available, Asia urgently needs more trained doctors to counter an exploding Aids epidemic,” said Amfar director Kevin Frost.

“Without trained health-care professionals to monitor these complex drug regimens, patients are on their own,” he said.

“Self-medication can lead to ineffective treatment, drug resistance and eventually to widespread treatment anarchy.”

While the epidemic continues to grow in Asia despite several prevention efforts, there is hope in the form of low-cost branded drugs for people living with HIV. There are 27 local generic drug manufacturers in eight Asian countries compared with just one in Africa.

UNAids, the United Nations program on HIV/Aids, estimates that 1,7-million people in Asia need anti-retroviral treatment, but less than 100 000 are currently receiving it.

“In this crisis, doctors are entrusted with many responsibilities beyond prescribing medication,” said Abeeda Kamarulzaman of the University of Malaya Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur. “Malaysia has too few doctors to serve as prevention experts, community advocates and sources of credible information about the epidemic.”

The discrepancy of physician preparedness ranges from one doctor for 24 HIV-infected people in Japan to one doctor per nearly 11 250 infected people in Vietnam, according to the Therapeutics Research, Education and Aids Training (Treat) Asia report.

Treat Asia is a network of clinics, hospitals and research institutions that work to ensure the safe delivery of HIV/Aids treatment throughout Asia and the Pacific.

“In places where HIV is understood by very few people, doctors are called upon to be prevention experts, mentors and even community activists battling pervasive ignorance about Aids and other infectious diseases,” said Kenneth Mayer of Brown University Medical School, who has worked extensively with clinicians in India.—Sapa-DPA

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