August 19, 2005

Brain drain hurts AIDS fight, UN official says

The brain drain drawing Africa's nurses to the West has hobbled the fight against HIV/AIDS in Lesotho, a U.N. official has announced. According to Stephen Lewis, the U.N. special envoy for AIDS in Africa, Lesotho's battle against AIDS highlighted problems in the international community's response to the disease in Africa, home to some 25 million of the world's total estimated 37.8 million people living with HIV. "The country is struggling but the government is single-mindedly determined to fight the virus," Lewis held. "The problem now is human capacity. Lesotho has a problem of nurses. Lesotho like other African countries is struggling with brain drain to countries such as Britain and Canada," he said. Lewis commended Lesotho's strategy for fighting the disease, which the government has declared a national emergency. Unlike some countries in the region, Lesotho has a coordinated task team to confront AIDS, involving everyone from government ministers to traditional healers in the fight. But Lewis said a lack of resources remained a serious hurdle for Lesotho, which already has an estimated 100.000 AIDS orphans and where unemployment is believed to be as high as 50 percent. While the government has set a target of treating 28.000 HIV-positive people with anti-retroviral drugs by the end of this year, it has so far enrolled only 5.000. Lewis said Lesotho would be lucky to double that number by early 2006. "For a poor country like Lesotho, the focus should be on treatment and I'm impressed with programmes that link with the communities," he said.
Lesotho has enlisted help from the Clinton Foundation and the Geneva-based Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has donated $34 million for HIV/AIDS and TB programmes over the next five years. But in a country that only has about 250 people trained in providing anti-retroviral drugs, Lewis said Lesotho had to figure out ways to train more nurses and then to keep them. "Lesotho is in short supply of nurses. If it doesn't do something about it is in trouble, so is the rest of Africa." (IRIN)

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