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A three-month campaign by Addis Ababa’s health bureau hopes to boost adherence to antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs in the Ethiopian capital by improving communication between patients and health service providers.

A 2009 study by the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office found that on average, 72.3 percent of patients on ARVs were still on first-line medication one year after starting treatment.

“The remaining are lost… it could be due to any number of reasons such as death or an unannounced change of location but it is a cause for concern,” said Addis Akalu, head of the disease prevention and control department at the Addis Ababa Health Bureau.

According to Esmael Wabela, HIV prevention and treatment adviser at the city’s heath bureau, insufficient food, high transport costs to drug collection points and stigma-related issues such as fear of disclosure are some of the main reasons HIV-positive Ethiopians fail to stick to ARVs.

Such failure can hasten progress from HIV to AIDS; patients taking their drugs irregularly also run the risk of developing drug resistant strains of the virus, requiring significantly more costly second- and third-line ARVs.

Addis Ababa’s health bureau is partnering with the national AIDS Resource Centre (ARC) on the three-month campaign, launched in March and funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Through a mass-media campaign and the use of toll-free telephone HIV/AIDS information services, it seeks to promote “astewai” (responsible patients), and “tagash” (tolerant service providers) as part of its efforts to improve adherence.

“There are findings to suggest that if there is good communication between clients and service providers, better services are provided,” said Anthoula Assimacopoulou, ART communication programme officer at the ARC.

Some 26 state-run health centre, five state-run hospitals and 13 private facilities that provide ART in Addis Ababa will participate in the campaign, with a plan to roll it out to the rest of the country should it prove successful. 

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