It has taken a tremendous effort, over the course of many years, to give HIV-positive persons in sub-Saharan Africa access to antiretroviral treatment. On the World Health Organization's latest reckoning, over five million persons are now on treatment worldwide. However, the success is partial: another ten million persons in need of treatment currently do not receive it, and the pool of those who will need treatment in the future is expanding furiously -- over 7000 new HIV infections take place globally every day.
Even the partial success in access to treatment is very, very fragile. The global HIV treatment initiatives are generally bankrolled by the developed world's financial heavyweights who (after debilitating their own economies) are calling for austerity and belt-tightening, and programs supporting the lives of distant others are looking vulnerable.
But the challenges to maintaining and expanding HIV treatment programs apparently come from all angles. AllAfrica
, that great warehouse of online African news, gives two recent examples. Kenya has been hit by a rise in food prices and a drought
. Nearly two and a half million Kenyans are regarded as food-insecure, as prices have risen 15 percent; herders are losing their livestock in the dry north-east of the country, and some are fleeing to Uganda. For those who are food-insecure, HIV-positive and in need of antiretroviral treatment, the situation is grim: even for those who can access treatment, the pills are very hard to tolerate (and less effective) on an empty stomach. Some people would rather go off treatment than deal with the side-effects, though this could lead to resistant strains of HIV; others are reluctant to start treatment, which is likely to lead to poor clinical outcomes. In Tanzania, another twist: a sizable patients taking antiretroviral treatment may fail to adhere to treatment in their quest for the latest miraculous herbal cure. A former Lutheran pastor in the village of Loliondo has concocted something which has stirred a great deal of excitement, as would any substance promising to cure diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV. The ingredients are unknown, but the Tanzanian Drugs and Food Authority, the National Institute for Medical Research and the Muhimbili National Hospital endorse the herb as fit for human consumption. But there is no proof of its efficacy. No matter: people with HIV are flocking there by the thousands, some persons literally dying
to get there. The Tanzanian authorities are struggling to convince people to continue taking their drugs, and not succumb to the siren song of an HIV/AIDS cure. (It is always more pleasant to imagine an indigenous cure than deal with the reality of depending on products of foreign multinational pharmaceutical companies.) With all these pressures -- economic crises, natural disasters, rising new infections, strange cultural manifestations -- is it reasonable to expect the pool of those accessing HIV treatment to continue to expand? What is the plan B if the bubble bursts?
Labels: Africa, bioethics, HIV/AIDS