Stabroek News
Georgetown, Guyana
7 October 2003

HIV drugs programme launched in regions -tests performed in neighbourhoods next step

Johann Earle

The Anti-Retro Viral (ARV) programme is now being expanded so that those persons infected with HIV or AIDS living in outlying regions can be treated without coming to the city. And a new laboratory protocol for the on-site testing of persons in their neighbourhoods could soon come on stream.

Since being launched in April of 2002 in Georgetown the ARV programme has already dispensed drugs to 270 persons. Around 230 of those persons were treated at the Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinic in Georgetown.

Dr Morris Edwards, Programme Manager of the National Aids Programme Secretariat (NAPS), disclosed this yesterday during the launch of the Anti-Retro Viral Programme. He said that persons who tested positive for HIV would be considered for the ARV treatment. He stated, however, that out of the group of HIV positive persons, only those persons whose immune system was not properly functioning would be given the drugs.

He noted too that there had been excellent clinical responses and low side effects from the persons who took the treatment. Through the expansion programme, NAPS intends to take the ARV programme to Regions Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara), Six (East Berbice/ Corentyne) and Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice). The West Demerara Regional Hospital, the Upper Demerara Hospital, the New Amsterdam Hospital and the Suddie Hospital will become centres for the administering of ARVs to persons living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Patients will be able to receive the ARV drugs free of cost from the hospitals. Edwards said there were several factors that influenced Guyana's decision to produce the ARV drugs locally, including Guyana's high incidence of infections, the political will and the availability of a local manufacturer for the ARV (the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation).

Guyana, he said, was the second highest infected country in Latin America and the Caribbean with a 3.5% rate of infection of persons between the ages of 15 and 35.

Persons involved in the programme were trained in the field of adherence counselling which is important for the encouragement of patients to continue their treatment regimen, Edwards said. Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health Dr Rudolph Cummings said Guyana has made great strides in its Anti-Retro Viral treatment programme and is said to be one of the cheapest producers of ARV drugs in the Americas.

The Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) is under consideration by NAPS to distribute ARVs, Edwards said. He indicated that the programme launch occurred in tandem with the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) funded by the US Government.