Burkina Faso: Free HIV medication does not guarantee a better life (by Nourou-Dhine Salouka for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

| December 6, 2010

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Celine is a 48-year-old widow who has been living with HIV for five years. She used to work on other people’s land to earn the money to feed her seven children. But her condition worsened in 2007. Since then she has not been able to return to the rice fields. For her, everyday life is very complicated. She explains, “Since I’m sick, I cannot work. Even for eating, it’s very difficult.”

Living with HIV in rural areas is particularly difficult. Bama is a rural town 400 kilometres southwest of Ouagadougou. HIV-positive patients in Bama struggle to cope, despite receiving free antiretroviral medication. Many cannot afford all the medical tests they need. And those living with HIV cannot always afford a healthy diet.

Celine needs regular tests to evaluate the effectiveness of her antiretroviral medication. But the test is expensive. She pays 10,000 CFA francs each month for the test, about 20 US dollars. This includes the cost of transport to the nearest laboratory, about 40 kilometres away in Bobo-Dioulasso.

However, Celine says that her costs have gone down. In 2007, she had to pay for her medication. This cost 5000 francs, or ten US dollars, each month. In 2009, the government began distributing free antiretrovirals. She says, “Before the free ARVs, I had to pay for drugs. When I did not have any money, I would suspend the treatment.” She does not have to do this any longer. Smiling, she says, “My condition is improving day by day.” However, she still has to find the resources to feed herself and her family.

Stories of people in need are common in Bama. People living with HIV can, however, count on the support of a local association, the Development Association of Sinignassigui Bama. Founded in 1999, it is an association of farmers engaged in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The organization conducts awareness campaigns and distributes food to people with HIV. It encourages community discussion about health and nutrition. The association provides psychological support to 64 people living with HIV. To combat discrimination, the association organizes community meals which serve both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people.

People are grateful for the assistance the association provides. Moussa is a 46-year-old mechanic who benefits from the organization’s work. He hopes they will start other programs. He says, “To be independent, we need microcredit.”

But funding for programs to support people living with HIV is minimal. Current levels of support may drop. At the 18th International AIDS Conference, held in Austria in July 2010, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria rejected projects submitted by Burkina Faso and Cameroon. In 2011, funding for HIV and AIDS support programs in Burkina may drop 30% to 40% from current levels.

Organizations fighting AIDS in Burkina Faso condemned this decision. In the short term, it will mean a serious drop in support for those living with HIV in the country. For now, the community in Bama refuses to accept this situation. Soon they may have to. With less funding, how much longer can support organizations continue their work?