Integrated Regional Information Networks - February 2, 2012
NAIROBI/KINSHASA, 2 February 2012 (PlusNews) - The lives of
thousands of HIV-positive people in the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC) are at risk as the country faces declining donor
funding and a severe shortage of HIV treatment, according to
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
MSF recently launched a year-long advocacy campaign to raise
awareness of the DRC's HIV crisis.
"The problem is quite old in the DRC; the country has always been
minimized by donors who have not seen it as a priority, mainly
because HIV prevalence is relatively low at between 3 and 4
percent," Thierry Dethier, advocacy manager for MSF Belgium in
the DRC, told IRIN/PlusNews. "But look at the indicators: more
than one million people are living with HIV, 350,000 of whom
qualify for ARVs [antiretrovirals] but only 44,000 - or 15
percent - are on ARVs."
Dethier said the main reason for the ARV crisis was the end of
six years of World Bank funding in 2011. International health
financing mechanism UNITAID, which provides funding for
paediatric and second-line ARVs, is also ending its funding to
the DRC in December 2012; the cancellation of Round 11 funding by
the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is only
likely to worsen the situation.
Seventy-five percent of HIV funding in the DRC is from the Global
Fund, 25 percent is from UNITAID through the Clinton Health
Access Initiative - which provides funding for paediatric ARVs
and second-line ARVS - and from the US President's Emergency Plan
for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which funds prevention of
mother-to-child HIV transmission.
"The country is currently using funds from round seven and eight
of the Global Fund; these funds are due to be consolidated but
have also been cut - round seven by 30 percent... round eight may
also be cut," Dethier said. "We expect that the consolidated
funds will last through 2014, after which there is no funding for
The DRC did not qualify for funding under the Global Fund's ninth
and 10th round.
According to the director of an NGO in the capital, Kinshasa, who
preferred anonymity, funding problems mean many of his patients'
lives are at risk.
"In Kinshasa alone we have shut two out of the three health
centres we used to run, a situation which leaves us [caring] for
only 1,800 out of 3,000 people living with HIV," he told
IRIN/PlusNews. "Today we are running the one remaining health
centre for HIV-positive people by charging each of them US$5 per
"When the funding was available patients could come for checking
whenever they were feeling unwell... we do give them treatment
but today we receive them once a month unless their health
condition has deteriorated," he added. "We are now appealing to
the government to intervene in filling the gap that Global Fund
is leaving in funding interventions for people living with HIV."
Dethier noted that there were also problems with HIV testing.
"Since there is no treatment people feel it's pointless to test,"
he said. "As many as 15,000 people have tested HIV-positive and
qualify for treatment but are not receiving it," he said.
The Global Fund says it is reviewing a request for continued
funding, and no life-saving programmes will be cut as a result of
"In terms of future additional funding, Round 11 was cancelled
and replaced by a transitional funding mechanism that will allow
countries to apply for funding for essential services for
continuation of prevention, treatment and/or care services
currently financed by the Global Fund," said Marcela Rojo, Global
Fund spokeswoman. "Countries that face significant programme
disruption between January 1 2012 and March 31 2014 may apply for
up to two years of funding.
"This means that no recipient will be forced to suspend any
essential services as a consequence of the round 11
cancellation," she added.
According to Rojo, with Phase 2 funding, the country aims to
scale up treatment to 67,000 people by end-2014.
MSF's Dethier noted that other donors would have to step up their
"With funding from the Global Fund, only 15 percent of people
have access to ARVs, so we need others to contribute and we need
the existing partners - UNITAID and PEPFAR - to honour their
commitments to the people they are already supporting and to
expand their programmes," he said. "The government aims to have
160,000 people on ARVs by 2014, which means putting roughly 3,500
people on ARVs per month - with money, this can be done."