Deaths reported as ARV shortage continues

BUJUMBURA, 5 September 2011 (PlusNews) - Burundian NGOs say at least 20 people have died as a national shortage of antiretroviral continues.

"Some have died, others have turned to traditional healers, and all of them [HIV-positive people] are discouraged," said Jeanne Gapiya, who heads Burundi's largest HIV NGO, Association Nationale de soutien aux Seropositifs et Sideens (ANSS).

More than 60,000 Burundians need HIV treatment, but only about 25,000 have access to ARVs. Ministry of Health officials could not be reached to confirm the number of people affected by the months-long shortage.

Activists staged a "die-in" in March 2011 to protest against the lack of drugs.

The shortage has been blamed on dwindling donor funds and a disorganized health ministry. At the end of June 2011, World Bank funding - more than US$50 million over a nine-year period - for Burundi's AIDS response ended and has not been renewed. Together with the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Bank had been one of Burundi's largest HIV donors.

According to Celine Kanyonge, who heads the country's prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programme (PMTCT), funding from the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, which supported paediatric ARVs, has also ended.

"This prevents us from reaching our goals... of increasing the number of women on the PMTCT protocol," she said.

And despite the Global Fund approving some $35 million to fight HIV in Burundi under its eighth round of grants, organizations caring for HIV-positive people have still not signed agreements with the National Council for HIV/AIDS Control, CNLS, to access the cash.

''Some have died, others have turned to traditional medicine and all of them are discouraged''
Global Fund grants to Burundi are channelled through a coordinating body called the Intensification and Decentralization Programme for the Fight against HIV/AIDS (PRIDE), which funds CNLS, which in turn pays for HIV-positive people's healthcare. According to Sabine Ntakarutimana, Minister of Public Health and HIV/AIDS control, problems with the implementation of PRIDE had caused the delay in the disbursement of funds.

PRIDE's predecessor, a project named APRODIS, closed at the end of 2010 and, according to Gerard Ntezahorigwa, head of a network of people living with HIV in the province of Mwaro, central Burundi, the gap between the closure of APRODIS and the implementation of PRIDE resulted in several deaths.

During a senate session in August, Ntakarutimana blamed the drug shortages on inefficient staff.

"We have means but there are people who... did not play their roles properly," she said. "The fault really occurred, but will not happen again."