The biggest challenge in the global fight against Aids is no longer money for drug research and treatment but the lack of local health services in nations worst-hit by the disease, says the World Bank.
While some two million people are now receiving treatment for HIV/Aids, the lack of health services in many African and Asian nations is adversely affecting treatment programmes, said Debrework Zewdie, head of the bank's programme.
An absence of proper pharmaceutical storage had seen HIV/Aids drugs expire before they could be administered and a "brain drain" of doctors and medical researchers meant there was a shortage of people capable of properly implementing treatment, Zewdie told the International Aids Society conference in Sydney.
"Our most difficult challenge is not funding, but the limited health system capacity in countries with the highest disease burden," Zewdie told reporters at the world's largest HIV/Aids conference, attended by 5 000 delegates from 133 countries."
A desperate shortage
"There is a desperate shortage of doctors, health care workers and researchers, who would not only deliver treatment services but also coordinate local operations."
The World Bank said Ethiopia has less than 2 000 doctors or about one doctor for every 100 000 people. Papua New Guinea, which faces one of the fastest growing HIV/Aids epidemics, has only 284 doctors - and half of these work overseas.
"We want to reverse the lack of research culture. We want to reverse the brain drain and bring our doctors home," said Zewdie."
Almost 40 million infected
The United Nations says close to 40 million people are infected with the Aids virus and that treatment has dramatically expanded from 240 000 people in 2001 to 1.3 million by 2005.
In June, world powers at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany set a target of providing Aids drugs over the next few years to approximately 5 million people. – (ReutersHealth)