Biting Death

Why not bite death?  It is easier to access and accept on an empty stomach.  It won’t make you vomit nor have diarrhea.  Take a bite of death.  It is cheap and right at hand.

This is the kind of logic it takes to refuse to take Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ARV) drugs.  In fact the drugs have been labeled as such amongst some Kenyans.  According to IRIN/PlusNews ARV’s are considered death drugs.  The article cites that in Isiolo as of September 6, 2007 “ Food shortages in arid, remote northern Kenya are making it impossible for HIV-positive people in the region to adhere to their antiretroviral (ARV) medication regime, relief workers say.”

The life-prolonging ARV drugs have been labeled “death drugs” because of the effect they have on patients who take them without adequate food, according to Ahmed Mohamed Patel, a volunteer with the Kenya Red Cross in Isiolo, in Kenya‘s Eastern Province, which borders Ethiopia in the far north of the country.

“The safety and effectiveness of the drugs depends on the food intake …unfortunately, most of the victims are poor and cannot afford a simple bite of food,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. “The expected relief and intended assistance will never be achieved unless the problem is Health workers said many HIV-positive people were opting to stay off the drugs rather than suffer the side effects of taking them on an empty stomach.

The government has initiated a free food programme empty stomach to assist families of people infected and affected by HIV in Isiolo but so far, only 30 families have been benefiting.

So if you are taking the medicines you don’t really know if your cramping, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, depression and other mood swings are because you are taking too much medicines, not enough medicines, or is it just that you are plain starving to death.

According to Overview of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) by Myra Sessions The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, also called PEPFAR or the Emergency Plan, is a five-year bilateral commitment by the United States Government to support HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs in developing countries. Authorized to spend $15 billion in five years (fiscal years 2004-2008), PEPFAR is the largest-ever global health initiative dedicated to a single disease.


For the fiscal years 2004 and 2007, the United States PEPFAR program spent $92,474,390-$142,937,153 in Kenya alone.  That is not much bang for the buck if you consider that according to Business Daily of Nairobi which reports that as of June-2007: only 120,000 people living with HIV have access to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), about a tenth of the total number of the infected population.

Let’s do the math here.  Almost 143 million dollars divided by 120,000 people.  If I add, the five carry the six, minus one…, count my thumbs, take off my socks, and count my big toes I come up with…, $119,000 per person.  That is if the PEPFAR program was actually providing all the care for all of those with HIV/AIDS in Kenya.  This excludes the possibility and probability of some significant contributions of other donors such as Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, Red Crescent, WHO, UNICEF.  I would imagine that for each one person treated under this program you could treat as many as five or six in the US.

Now the problem here is that undoing or stopping PEPFAR would be unthinkable.  After all, what will the poor mothers and orphaned children of Africa do if the donors decide the program is not working?  Hence, the American taxpayer is in a real dilemma.  We have a program that is spending out of proportion to the benefits it offers, people have to choose between biting death from drugs, or awaiting death from hunger.  If we choose not to share, we are not right.  If we continue to share the way we are doing it, we cause harm.

Is the PEPFAR program truly a relief and remedy for the sick, or remuneration for the wealthy?