Machine shortage hampers AIDS fight in Bulawayo

arv_treatmentBULAWAYO - The National Aids Council (NAC) says a shortage of CD4 count machines in Bulawayo is hampering efforts to step up provision of life prolonging anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to people living with the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the countrys second largest city and surrounding areas.

NAC communications officer Orirando Manwere said Bulawayo with nearly a million residents had only two of the machines used to gauge whether an HIV positive person should be put on ARVs. He said: The city only has two CD4 count machines, situated at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Mpilo Hospital. These are insufficient considering the population of Bulawayo. The shortage of these machines has a negative bearing on the number of people who are supposed to be on ARVs.

He did not give figures of how many people in the city should have been receiving ARVs but are not able to do so because they are yet to have CD4 cell counts taken. According to a senior official with the AIDS and TB unit in the Ministry of Health every major hospital should be equipped with at least two CD4 count machines while the smaller council clinics should have at least one machine. A count of CD4 cells a type of white blood cells also known as T-helper cells — helps to determine the stage of HIV or aids in a patient. Normally doctors recommend ARVs for people with a CD4 cell count of 220 or below. Zimbabwes sterling efforts against HIV/AIDS have paid off with the country only one of two sub-Saharan countries the other one being Uganda to be able to reverse HIV infections among its population.

But the disease remains a major killer in the country claiming at least 3 000 lives per week with the impact of the pandemic worsened by food shortages and a public health system that remains largely dysfunctional despite spirited efforts by international donors to improve food availability and efficiency in public hospitals. Zimbabwes unity government has promised to revive the countrys once brilliant economy and restore basic services such as health and education. But the administration could fail to deliver on its promise unless it is able to unlock vital financial support from rich Western nations that have refused to direct financial aid to Zimbabwe until they see more political reforms and full implementation of a power-sharing agreement that gave birth to the Harare coalition government.

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