Aids drug shortage threatens Africa

Doctors Without Borders warned Saturday that a chronic shortage of drugs to treat Aids in six African countries could cost thousands of lives and reverse progress made on the continent most afflicted by the disease.

In recent weeks, some clinics have stopped accepting new patients, Eric Goemaere, medical coordinator in South Africa of the organization, which is also known by its French acronym MSF, told The Associated Press.

He blamed the apathy of governments, donors and the organisations they work with, as well as the global economic crisis.

"There's no doubt people will die as a consequence. It's a catastrophe in the making," Goemaere said before the opening of a four-day international Aids conference in Cape Town.

The countries affected are Zimbabwe, Uganda, Congo, Malawi, Guinea and South Africa, with the last suffering the highest rate of AIDS infection in the world.

2/3 of HIV+ in Africa
At the end of 2007, 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV, according to the World Health Organisation. Two-thirds of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides a quarter of all international financing to fight Aids across the world, has not received three to four billion dollars in promised funding, according to Mit Philips of the MSF research centre in Brussels.

"Some countries have committed but have not paid and there's a lot of uncertainty at an international level whether the Global Fund will get the money it needs," she said in a telephone interview.

The fund has already slashed 10% from grants already approved last year, Philips said.

The fund's website says that, since its creation in 2002, it has approved funding for $15.6 billion for more than 572 programs 140 countries.

In addition, Philips said, there has been no promised increased in funds from the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, a pet project of President George W. Bush that is credited with saving millions of lives.

On the campaign trail, President Barack Obama promised to expand the program by a billion dollars a year. But Philips said funding has remained flat. Goemaere said organisations using the project's funds in Uganda have been told to stop taking on new patients. – (Michelle Faul, Sapa-AP/July 2009)

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