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CALL TO ADDRESS ACCESS TO TREATMENT FOR TB

Mrs. Georgina Ahamefule, 41, was one of the people living with HIV/AIDS that were presented at the opening of the African Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases that opened in Abuja, Nigeria on Thursday, April 26, 2001.

Georgina however faces a double jeopardy. Apart from being HIV-positive, she's TB-infected. Only few weeks ago, she was in the news when a Nigerian judge barred her from entering a courtroom where the case she filed against her ex-employer was being heard. An auxiliary nurse, Georgina had been dismissed from work by her boss when he tested her without her consent and found out she was HIV-positive.

She told her story at the cavernous Africa Hall of the International Conference Centre, Abuja in the presence of 10 African heads of states and governments and other world leaders including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and ex-US president Bill Clinton. Her story:

My name is Georgina Ahamefule and I am 41 years old. I was diagnosed with HIV infection in 1995. Last year in October, I contracted tuberculosis and have since been taking medication for it. Today, I stand before you all looking healthy but this has come and continues to come at a great "cost"-cost to my family, cost to my social and civil life and cost to my economic life. The puzzling things is that all these 'costs' could have been reduced tremendously if, society at large, and decision-makers in particular, had paid more attention to what they can do to alleviate the suffering of less fortunate people like me.

In this country, it is our government's official policy to give free drugs for the treatment of TB. Yet for the past six months that I have been taking anti-TB medication I have had to purchase the drugs from the private market at a very high cost indeed and sometimes these drugs are not even available. My doctor has advised me that if I disrupt my treatment schedule and am unable to complete it, I run the risk of developing an almost incurable form of TB called multi-drug resistant TB. That will indeed be a double sentence for death!

Yet all this can be prevented if you, our decision-makers, would take the right action and make TB medication available and accessible to us. I am a voice representing thousands of TB sufferers in this country and our dear continent of Africa. Many of us are PLWHAs [people living with HIV/AIDS]. If today we cannot get drugs to cure us of AIDS, at least, you our leaders can secure for us anti-TB drugs that are available, effective, cheaper and can definitely help to prolong our lives.

I would like to appeal to you all our honorable leaders: we the people of Africa are the greatest economic asset you have, yet look at us being slowly but surely wiped out by these two deadly diseases. I wonder what the future of our countries is going to look like in the next 20 years if you do not act fast. You definitely have the power to change the destiny of our dear continent of Africa. If a definitive cure for AIDS is not yet in sight, please we surely have a definitive cure for TB. Please make this accessible and affordable to us and we can continue to contribute to our collective socioeconomic development.

Honorable leaders, the future of Africa lies in your hands and the time to act is now! Please, act now and we will win.

I thank you.

    
    

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