Brazil will start supplying Guinea-Bissau with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to launch its first treatment programme for HIV-positive people in the first quarter of 2005, Health Minister Odete Costa Semedo has announced.
Speaking during World AIDS day in the central town of Bafata, 110 km east of the capital, Bissau, she said doctors and nurses from two hospitals would first be sent to Brazil for training on how to administer the medication.
Costa Semedo, who visited Brazil in September, said the ARV programme would be administered through the new Sant Egidio/Raoul Follereau hospital in the capital, and Cumura hospital, 10 km outside the city.
Until now, people seeking ARV treatment in this small West African country have been forced to travel to neighbouring Senegal.
The health minister gave no details of how many people would be treated in the first phase of the programme, or how much patients would be charged for the drugs.
A sentinel survey of pregnant women who voluntarily underwent HIV testing at antenatal clinics in 2003 estimated that four percent of the adult population of Guinea-Bissau were living with the HI virus. At 5.9 percent, Costa Semedo said, the prevalence rate was highest in Bafata.
The health ministry estimated there were now 42,800 HIV-positive people in the country, and between 25 and 40 people were being infected each day.
Although HIV prevalence rate in this former Portuguese colony of 1.3 million people shot up after a brief but bloody civil war in 1998-99, public discussion of the disease remains taboo.
Condom usage is low, prompting Costa Semedo to remark that there were more than 190,000 sexually active people in the country, who never used the prevention method.
No well-known personalities in Guinea-Bissau have ever admitted to being HIV positive and there is no association of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country.
However, two NGOs, ALTERNAG, which is locally based, and Ceus e Terras (Skies and Lands) an Italian charity, both help people living with the virus.
The government launched a three-year plan to fight AIDS in July after receiving US $19 million from the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions