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World AIDS Day 2007 - More doctors and nurses urgently needed to help HIV and AIDS response

As the world marks World AIDS Day 2007 on 1 December, a huge boost in the numbers of health workers is urgently needed as millions of HIV and AIDS patients continue to be left without proper care, according to international aid agency Oxfam.

Oxfam is working closely with hundreds of partners in more than 20 countries to bring relief to the millions of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. There are currently around 33 million people worldwide living with HIV, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa although parts of Asia and Latin America are witnessing a rapid growth in the rates of infections, and a growing proportion are women.

As part of its campaign calling for better essential services like health care, Oxfam calls on rich countries to lead the fight against the pandemic by fully funding the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and supporting poor countries to build their health systems, including the recruitment, training and retention of more health workers.

“In the global response to AIDS, the lack of trained doctors, nurses and community health workers is without doubt slowing us down. To effectively treat HIV and AIDS, there needs to be more and better training, decent working conditions and adequate salaries for tens of thousands of new doctors and nurses. This will only happen if donors provide more of their aid for health through sector and general budget support, and if developing countries prioritise health services in their national budgets,” says Enida Friel, Oxfam International Lead on HIV&AIDS.

In four provinces in Angola, Oxfam has been working closely with HIV support groups. Dolmingas dos Saleios Correia is the Advocacy Officer for Accao Humana, an Oxfam partner which operates in Luanda. She is HIV positive and has lost her husband and two children to AIDS.

“Things are improving in Angola. Anti-retrovirals are now freely available in syrup forms for children. However there are still many problems,” Dolmingas says. “In public hospitals for example, there are 10,000 adults on ARV treatment and only ten doctors. Additionally there are 15,000 children receiving ARVs with only two doctors available. The need for more health workers is urgent.”

In Malawi, one of the worst-affected countries in the world, around two out of every three of the 187,000 HIV-positive people are now receiving treatment.

Just five years ago virtually no-one in Malawi was getting treatment. Survival rates are now at around 70%, which is a massive success story says Oxfam.

However, the lack of treatment and care for tens of thousands of patients remains a huge problem. Lingalireni Mihowa, an HIV and AIDS Advisor for Oxfam: ''It’s a sad situation when poor Malawians waited this long to have access to free ARV drugs, and now the main barrier to accessing those drugs is the lack of doctors and nurses to administer those life-saving medicines.

“There are just not enough doctors and nurses to respond to the demands of patients. Luckily enough, the Government of Malawi is working with donors and the Global Fund to sort out the situation, but we have still reached a crisis point,” she said.

In India, which has between 2 million to more than 3 million people living with HIV, the largest number outside of Africa, Oxfam runs various programmes.

Like in many other countries Oxfam believes that while prevention programmess are important, these alone are not enough to halt the increase in infections.

“Sub-Saharan Africa and especially Southern Africa are the regions worst affected by HIV and AIDS. Even though the HIV prevalence is slowing down in some African countries such as Zimbabwe or Kenya, the need to invest in training and support of health professionals is now more imperative then ever.

"Building health systems that also deliver reproductive health care is a long term investment in halting and reversing the epidemic worldwide,” said Dr. Friel.

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