Local anti-retroviral drugs already in use
Stabroek News
January 8, 2002

There has already been use of the new HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral drugs being produced by the New GPC drug company in public institutions, according to Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.

The minister revealed that Georgetown Public Hospital last week purchased $6 million worth of the drugs. He further said that in the past, before they were able to access drugs locally they had purchased over $10 million in drugs from overseas.

"So the public sector always has some limited supply," the minister said.

Ramsammy made the disclosure recently on the television programme `Answers' in response to a question on whether the drugs would be available freely at public institutions.

The minister said that they were working on providing the drugs freely to infected persons, "but I cannot guarantee everyone today that tomorrow when they go to the hospitals that everyone will access the drug freely." However, the minister said, the number of patients that visit the hospital now were covered, as the present budgetary allocation in the health sector made it possible. He pointed out that once the drug was available everyone would go to the hospital and this, he said, would overwhelm the budgetary allocation. "The question becomes how will we deal with that? Would we introduce a small charge for example?," the minister asked. He said that he hoped, based on some proposals he had, that Guyana would be able to provide the drugs free at the public institutions.

"The problem is the overall service, it is not just the drugs...," the minister said. He said that there would also be need for viral load tests to access whether in fact the drug was lowering the viral load in the patient. He said that the cheapest coverage for that was US$175 per test. "That is beyond the capacity of the government even with the proposals that I have," the minister said.

The minister said that it was a costly venture and patients would have to stand some of the cost. He said that the venture would call for some $10 billion to $15 billion, which was beyond the capacity of the government now and in the foreseeable future.

However, the minister said he was very optimistic and felt that the venture was possible with inputs from people and international organisations.

Meanwhile, the minister disclosed that entry point training programme for doctors who want to administer the drugs had been conducted and some 23 doctors were part of the programme. He said the doctors were basically from Region Four and doctors in Berbice had indicated an interest. Ramsammy said that the training conducted was only the first part and that during this month, further training would be done. He said that a large number of doctors in the public and private sectors had indicated an interest in administering the drugs.

The minister said that in the end he hoped that all ten regions would have at least one doctor who administered the drug and that all the public institutions would have protocols in place to deal with patients and have a well-structured referral programme.

On the question on how he would ensure that patients were educated on the use of the drugs, Ramsammy said that this would come under the HIV/AIDS education programme. He noted that there had been great emphasis on how not to get infected but it was recognised that there was a number of persons living with the virus so the programme would not just be for doctors but for the patients. He said that more emphasis would be placed on counselling patients living with the virus and this would include the proper use of the drugs.

The minister said that patients living with the virus would also be trained to educate others.