Francophone countries in West-Central Africa ‘left behind’ by the AIDS revolution

MSF LogoIn Montpellier, France, from April 27 to 30, scientists and doctors are meeting at the International francophone conference on HIV and Hepatitis (AFRAVIH).  Doctors Without Borders – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) the Nobel Prize winning international humanitarian medical organization is there and speaking out.  MSF has issued a statement about the lack of progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS in many countries of French-speaking Central and West Africa.

MSF stated that: “In these countries, despite relatively low prevalence of the disease (often less than 5%), only 20 % of people living with HIV and in need of antiretroviral treatment (ART) actually receive it. Many of them then die before being diagnosed.”

HIV infection and prevalence rates are typically much higher for gay men and MSM as well as for other key populations than for the overall population and a central hewalth issue for them.

Dr Maria Machako is in charge of MSF’s HIV-AIDS hospital in Kinshasa (Photo by  Peter Casaer - MSF)
Dr Maria Machako is in charge of MSF’s HIV-AIDS hospital in Kinshasa (Photo by Peter Casaer – MSF)

The MSF team fight for every life, but here they can save only three quarters of the patients because patients arrive at an advanced stage of HIV or AIDS.

Dr. Eric Goemaere, MSF AIDS specialist, said:  “When we see the situation in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea or the Central African Republic we feel like we are stuck in a time warp. In our projects, we receive patients at advanced stages of AIDS who remind us what we saw before 2000 in Southern Africa, when antiretroviral treatments were hardly available.”

“Countries in the region should radically reconsider their models of treatment and care. Current approaches are centralized and doctor-centered, thus excluding many patients and making it impossible to control the transmission of the disease in the community. Experience has shown that providing ART closer to the patient and shifting tasks from doctors to nurses and properly trained lay workers gives very good results. Moreover it reduces the workload of doctors and nurses, who can then focus on the most severely ill patients,” says Dr Suna Balkan, coordinator of the MSF HIV Working Group.

Unfortunately, similar complaints were made two years ago at the 2011 Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the AIDS epidemic was then already out of control in many French West and Central African countries.   

To read the entire text of the MSF statement, click here.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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