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Ugandans Get Free AIDS Drugs

AIDS, World, HIV, Ribbon, Desease, Plague
Uganda began distributing free generic HIV drugs on Monday in a program aimed at treating all of the country's estimated 100,000 people living with AIDS.

The distribution makes Uganda only the second country in Africa to do so, the health minister said.

Vans carried $1.3 million worth of anti-retroviral drugs to 23 health centers, government and church-run hospitals around Uganda for the first 2,700 HIV-infected people to be treated under the program, Health Minister Jim Muhwezi said.

"Today, we are beginning to give people free treatment. We think we will cover everybody because. ...We are getting the money to do the work...(and) the prices of the drugs are getting lower and are not moving upward," Muhwezi told The Associated Press.

He said the United Nations' Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will give Uganda $70 million over five years to fund the program. Uganda also expects funding from the U.S. government, which has pledged $15 billion over five years to finance the global fight against AIDS in 14 African and Caribbean countries.

Uganda has waged one of the world's most successful battles against the spread of HIV, bringing the infection rate down from more than 30 percent in the early 1990s to around 6 percent of the country's 25 million people last year.

So far Botswana is the only African country to guarantee free AIDS treatment to all who need it, even though they are the more expensive brand-name drugs.

South Africa approved its own program late last year, but says it will take five years to reach all the patients who qualify for treatment.

Several African countries have programs that covers only HIV-positive pregnant women. They receive nevirapine, a drug that helps prevent transmission of the virus that causes AIDS from mother to child, for free.

By Henry Wasswa