Africa’s first large-scale public program to distribute critical AIDS drugs to a developing nation is as successful as similar programs in industrialized countries, a Harvard School of Public Health study has shown, helping put to rest concerns that such programs can’t work in developing nations.
Harvard researchers examined results for patients in the highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) program run at the Infectious Disease Care Clinic at Princess Marina Hospital in Gabarone, Botswana. They examined patients who entered the program between April 2001 and January 2002 and followed them through November 2003.
“We found the same effectiveness to AIDS therapies in our patients unable to afford treatment in Botswana, but now being afforded it via a public sector treatment program, as would be seen in patients in the West,” said Richard Marlink, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health.
HAART treatment, which uses multiple drugs to attack the disease, has been instrumental in reducing the death rate from AIDS in the United States, European nations, and other developed countries. Implementation of HAART in poorer countries, however, had been limited by the drugs’ high cost – as much as $10,000 per person annually in 2000 – and by a lack of health infrastructure.
Drug costs have fallen dramatically in recent years, reaching $140 per person by the end of 2003, but the drugs are still not reaching millions of those who need them. Just 500,000 of the 4.7 million people in need of antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving it as of June 2005, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
UNAIDS estimates that as many as 6 million people in developing and middle-income nations will die from AIDS in the next two years unless they get access to HAART therapy.