Geneva, World AIDS Day, 1 December 2001 — Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today challenged national governments and the international community to put words into action in tackling AIDS treatment in developing countries. Small-scale treatment programmes set up by MSF and other organisations and governments in developing countries are helping show the way. ARV treatment may not be easy, but it’s definitely possible. In Guatemala, Thailand, Malawi and other developing countries, hundreds of people who would have died are instead able to lead normal, productive lives.
In MSF’s projects, ARV triple therapy is part of a comprehensive approach to caring for HIV/AIDS patients. MSF’s first experiences treating patients with ARVs in the field have been very encouraging: although the treatment is no miracle cure, it extends and improves the quality of people’s lives. In the United States, where ARV treatment has been available since 1996, the new drugs have reduced mortality by up to 90%. In Brazil, a country with a very effective national AIDS programme, ARV treatment saved the government US$ 472 million between 1997 and 1999, because fewer patients were hospitalised or treated for opportunistic infections.
“Gaining access to ARV drugs here in Guatemala is revolutionary, because in most of Central America, these medicines are not available”, said Dr Belen Pedrique, the Medical Coordinator of one the MSF projects in Guatemala. “We’ve seen the quality of our patients’ lives improve dramatically. Thanks to the treatment, they suffer from fewer opportunistic infections and can return to work and take care of their families again. Being able to provide treatment completely changes the perspective of caring for people living with HIV/AIDS.”
“Since prices of ARV drugs have fallen, and will continue to fall, as a result of public pressure and generic competition, there is now no excuse not to start ARV treatment wherever possible”, said Dr Bernard Pécoul, director of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. “National governments of developing countries must show leadership, and donor countries must give the financial support necessary to set up and expand treatment programmes. An NGO can only show that treatment is possible, but it doesn’t have the mandate or the resources to mount large national treatment schemes – that is a job for governments ”, Dr Pécoul concluded.
Access to affordable medicines remains a major obstacle in treating patients in developing countries, but it is not the only challenge. MSF will continue working with its local counterparts and partners on prevention, counselling, monitoring and palliative care. Making existing treatment accessible to more people, reducing the cost of drugs and tests, and simplifying treatments to better suit the demanding conditions in developing countries are among MSF’s priorities in the coming months and years.
MSF has HIV/AIDS programmes in almost 30 countries around the world. Since 2000, the organisation has launched nine small-scale programmes providing ARV treatment in Cambodia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Thailand.
Médecins Sans Frontières is an independent humanitarian medical relief organisation aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters. Founded in 1971, MSF currently works in more than 80 countries around the world. The organisation was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.