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First free treatment programme for AIDS patients launched

The international medical relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Tigray Regional Health Bureau this week launched the first programme of free anti-retrovirals (ARVs) for the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients in Ethiopia, according to a press statement issued by MSF on Tuesday.

The first 13 patients at the Kahsay Abera hospital in the northwestern town of Humera had started receiving their ARVs, it said. The statement noted that the new ARV programme was a component of the commitment by the government and MSF to increase the availability of ARVs for patients in need of them.

"We are very excited about the start of this part of the programme. In close cooperation with the regional and federal authorities, we have shown it's possible to bring ARVs to Humera. We hope to increase the numbers of beneficiaries soon and also to set an example in Ethiopia of a treatment programme that others could learn from and emulate," the statement quoted Rik Nagelkerke, the head of the MSF's mission in Ethiopia, as saying.

While initiatives to introduce ARVs had commenced in other parts of Ethiopia, Humera was in a remote area with a relatively mobile and vulnerable population unable to access or pay for the treatment, which was available in major cities in other parts of the country, noted the statement.

It went on to note that Humera had a number of high-risk groups by virtue of the presence of many single men, including migrant workers, drawing many commercial sex workers to the area.

ARVs had proved successful in inhibiting the effects of AIDS, sometimes to the extent of virtually eliminating them. "The patient can regain a more normal life, continue to work and function in society and the family," it said, stressing, however, that the provision of ARV treatment involved extensive follow-up and support.

During the launch of the programme, the first patient to receive the treatment described how sick he had been only 17 days earlier, and how he had since regained his appetite, said the statement.

To be selected, patients had to be able to understand and have the ability to follow the medical instructions. The patients have also undergone an extensive pre-treatment counselling period.

A panel comprising representatives from the Bureau of Health, a local patient-support group, a local women's group, and MSF guides the selection of patients.

According to the UN, about 5,000 people in Ethiopia are infected every week, with nearly three million people already infected.

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