AZT now available to people with HIV
- Ramsammy
By Oscar P. Clarke
Stabroek News
November 6, 2001

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, yesterday announced that the ministry was now in a position to offer persons living with HIV the drug AZT at 10 US cents (approx $20) per pill.

Speaking at the launching ceremony for the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV pilot programme, which was held at the Dorothy Bailey Health Centre, the minister also announced that the anti-retroviral triple therapy could now be accessed for at least US$2 (approx $390) per dose.

These announcements came as a follow-up to another announcement Dr Ramsammy made last month when he said that the anti-retroviral drug therapy would be made available to HIV positive persons by this month at a affordable price. The health minister had said that the drug would cost between US$250 and US$350 per person per year, but did not say how persons would be able to access the drug.

Yesterday the minister again refused to state where Guyana was obtaining the drug. When Stabroek News pressed him on it, the minister said that the issue was a "very sensitive one" and that he would make the source of the drug public later.

Early last week he had told this newspaper that the first set of the drug therapy was already available in Guyana.

And even though the minister made those announcements yesterday he still did not say where persons could access the drug. However, when this newspaper again pressed, asking him if the drug was available at the Georgetown Public Hospital, the minister said, "yes."

According to the minister at the moment AZT is available through private companies at a price of ranging from 90 US cents (approx $176) to US$1 (approx $195) per pill and he noted that this was the cheapest form of the anti-retroviral drug.

However, the minister was able to climb several steps down to have the drugs available for a mere 10 US cents per pill and the triple cocktail drug at the cost of US$2.

At the moment Guyana is listed as the second most affected country in CARICOM and it is the minister's hope that Guyana will one day be at the bottom of the list as the country least affected by the dreaded disease.

And the ministry is not alone in its fight against the virus, United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), Assistant Representative, Dr Sreelakshmi Gururaja, who also spoke at the launching, said that UNICEF will work closely with the minister and other partners, through the country programme of cooperation to support specific actions.

These actions are to:

- prevent HIV infection among women of childbearing age;

- strengthen family and community support for women and their partners to prevent HIV infection and access services to prevent mother to child transmission;

- expand access to voluntary and counselling and testing to enable pregnant women and their partners to know their status and be supported in decisions related to their child's health;

- improve ante-natal care to assure the good health and nutritional well-being of women and ensure safe delivery;

- increase access to and use of anti-retroviral drugs for the prevention of vertical transmission of HIV;

- provide counselling and advice for the appropriate feeding of infants born to HIV positive mothers;

- improve the health and nutritional status and well-being of parents and infants living with HIV.