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General News of Thursday, 3 July 2003

Source: The Herald

Ministry Of Health Orders HIV/AIDS Drugs

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) has placed an order for antiretroviral drugs for 2,000 HIV/AIDS patients for the first two years.

The bulk of the drugs, which are expected in the country this year, were purchased through the Global Fund and will be available at specific treatment centres, such as the Korle-Bu and the Komfo Anokye Teaching hospitals and the Atua/Agormanya Government Hospital.

The Programme Manager of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), Dr Nii Ackwei Addo, who disclosed this in an interview in Accra yesterday, said attempts to produce three off-patent antiretroviral drugs by the government for the management of HIV/AIDS in March, this year, could not materialise.

Dr Addo attributed that to the need to fulfil the Patent Rights and the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) rules and regulations , cost-effectiveness in terms of purchasing the drugs outside or manufacturing them locally and the issue of producing some of the drugs that had already been licensed patently.

Some of the drugs that are being imported include Zidovudine, AZT, Didanosine, ddI, Stavudine, d4T, Lamivudine, 3TC, Indinavir, Neverapine and Efavirenz .

Dr Addo, however, noted that the MOH, with support from its development partners is trying to emulate Thailand, one of the countries in Asia that has successfully been able to manufacture antiretroviral drugs at highly subsided prices for HIV/AIDS sufferers.

He added that the MOH is looking at the transfer of technology in the form of knowledge and expertise from Thailand to Ghanaians to do their own manufacturing locally.

The programme manager stated that discussions have been re-opened with the Thai Government through the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to see to the technology transfer.

He said though an order has been placed for 2,000 patients, the Government is sourcing for funds to order more to cater for more patients in the country.

On the accessibility of the drugs to patients, Dr Addo stated that the issue is not only about its accessibility and cost but that the drugs have uncomfortable side-effects, hence the need to exercise caution in administering them.

“ We also provide drugs for the prevention and management of opportunistic infections,” he said. He explained that before the drugs are administered, there is the need for various laboratory tests to be conducted to determine the level of HIV/AIDS virus since some people are likely to react to the drugs.

Dr Addo said that patients who cannot afford the drugs shall be covered by exemptions under the healthcare system as proposed by the NACP’s report.

He further stated the MOH is retraining medical professionals who will be administering the drugs .

Again on the accessibility of Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) kits at hospitals and clinics in the country, Dr Addo stated that every government hospital in the country has test kits for VCT.

He disclosed that the MOH, and the Ghana Health Service (GHS), in collaboration with the Ghana Social Marketing Foundation (GSMF) are developing a programme to create awareness of the availability of VCT services and to educate people on the advantages of going in for voluntary testing.

Dr Addo added that the MOH will scale up VCT services to all the 110 districts and that it will also set up sites outside hospitals known as “Stand alone sites” to cater for people who want to have VCT tests where there are no hospitals.