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Shortage of Doctors and Nurses Affects AIDS Treatment in Africa

The scourge started there, it is generally believed. And its death dance continues unabated in the region. What little succour can come through medicines is also denied the unfortunate people.

Africa has increased the number of AIDS sufferers on treatment from 100,000 in 2003 to 1.3 million last year, but a lack of medical workers is preventing further expansion of drug programs, according to the report released Thursday by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

"The international community says it wants to achieve universal access, and in Khayelitsha we were coming close, but at a certain point things started to collapse," said Eric Goemaere, who heads the agency also known as Doctors Without Borders in that sprawling Cape Town township.

"We are absolutely saturated. We have come back to waiting lists and it feels again like we are losing the battle," he said.

Southern Africa is hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic, accounting for the vast majority of the 40 million infections and the daily death toll of 8,000. Despite the advances in AIDS treatment taken for granted in rich countries, more than 70 percent of Africans who need it are still waiting.

On an average day, about 200 AIDS patients flock to the clinic set up by Doctors Without Borders in Khayelitsha. Many others languish at home, not for lack of drugs but because there aren't enough health workers to administer them.

At the clinic in Khayelitsha where about 30 percent of adults have the AIDS virus nearly 6,000 people are currently receiving anti-retroviral therapy. But the number of new patients starting treatment each month dropped from 270 in May 2006 to 100 last December mainly because of lack of health workers.

South Africa has 393 nurses and 74 doctors per 100,000 people, but a high percentage work in the private sector and shortages are especially acute in rural areas. This compares to 901 nurses and 247 doctors per 100,000 people in t
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