SABC News, US to give Zambia $66 million to fight Aids, 26 January 2004

The US will give Zambia $66 million this year to fight HIV/Aids, including buying anti-retroviral drugs to prolong the lives of thousands of poor sufferers, Washington's top envoy in the country said today. Zambia has one of the world's highest HIV/Aids rates, with an estimated one in five people infected and more than 800 000 children orphaned by the pandemic.

Martin Brennan, a US Ambassador, told Reuters in an interview that Washington would release about $15 million in the next few weeks. The balance would be made available by July, with more to follow if it was well spent. "Zambia is going to receive $66 million this year...This is fast-track money to maximise the fight against HIV/Aids," Brennan said. "We are (going) to work with Zambians to educate people about Aids, to enable those infected with HIV to have access to treatment. We want to reach 200 000 Zambians in the next two years."

He said 55% of the funds would be used to buy anti-retroviral drugs, which would be distributed free to those unable to afford the life-prolonging drugs. He said the money would come from President George W. Bush's $15 billion Emergency Aids Fund targeting 14 Third World countries, 12 of them in Africa. Critics of Bush's Aids policy say much of the money will go straight to Western pharmaceutical companies rather than buying cheaper locally produced generic drugs. Embassy staff could not say where the drugs would be bought.

"The (US) government is currently working out guidelines and a mechanism for buying the Aids drugs...We will only know after two to three weeks where the drugs will be bought," James Greene, a Public Affairs Officer, said.

Aim to slow spread of Aids
Western-produced anti-retrovirals can cost between $300 and $1 000 a month in Zambia, where most of the country's 10 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Brennan said the US, which has given $75 million to Zambia over the past six years to fight Aids, would aim to give poor countries funds quicker to help slow down the spread of the incurable disease.

Only 8 000 Zambians receive free Aids drugs under a government project initially meant to reach 100 000 people. Zambia's Treasury, facing a donor freeze over its budget deficit, said last year the country could not train professional staff quickly enough to replace those dying from Aids, especially in education and agriculture. "Aids statistics don't tell the story, it's the people suffering from and dying of's a personal human tragedy," Brennan said, adding that some funds would be used to train doctors and nurses to administer the anti-retroviral drugs.

Brennan said Zambia's allocation would be increased next year if the country could show that the initial funds had been well-spent. He gave no further details. - Reuters




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