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HIV/AIDS patients may get free drugs by December

Plans are underway to provide HIV/AIDS patients in Burundi with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) free of charge by December, an official of the national AIDS body, the Conseil National de lutte contre le Sida, told IRIN.

"Some of our donors have allowed us to buy ARV medicine. Now, with the permission of the World Fund against AIDS, we will put all HIV/AIDS patients under ARV treatment," Dr Tharcisse Barihuta, an official of the AIDS council, said.

Previously, he said, the council had difficulties convincing donors to provide money for the purchase of ARV drugs.

Barihuta made the remarks on Thursday after he attended the first national youth conference on AIDS in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. Participants to the conference were drawn from youth across the country. They committed themselves to fight against HIV/AIDS.

At the same time, Barihuta said efforts had been made to reduce the cost of ARV drugs. "A tri-therapy cost 300, 000 francs (US $300) per month three years ago, now it costs 30,000 francs ($30)," he said.

He added that 60 percent of AIDS council's budget currently goes to taking care of HIV/AIDS patients.

He said that there had also been a problem of acquiring ARV prescription due to lack of health personnel, but that this problem had since been solved.

"In many provinces, we used to have only two doctors able to prescribe ARV medicine, to solve this problem we've trained 200 doctors who can now give ARV prescriptions," he said.

The national AIDS youth conference follows the setting up, recently, of a national youth coalition against AIDS, the Reseau National des Jeunes engages dans la lutte contre le VIH/SIDA (RENAJES) since the youth constitute a large category of people mostly affected by HIV/AIDS.

The RENAJES national secretary, Arielle Irambona, told the conference that Burundian girls were regularly victims of sexual abuse such as rape and prostitution, made worse by the high poverty levels in the country.

"It's time the youth stood up and took part in all national programmes related to the fight against AIDS," she said.

The minister of state in charge of the fight against HIV/AIDS, Genieveve Sindabizera, welcomed the youth's initiative to form a coalition against the disease.

"The government is aware that without helping the youth, without helping HIV/AIDS orphans, there will be many problems in future," she said. "The government has already set up a project to support young people affected by HIV/AIDS, especially AIDS orphans who head families."

She added, "We got support from World Bank to see how to integrate young people affected by AIDS into social life."

Three provinces had been selected to serve as pilot integration projects and that the programme would eventually be introduced countrywide, she said.

Burundi is ranked 13th of the countries mostly affected by HIV/AIDS in the world, and second in central Africa.

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