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The Lazarus Effect – for 40 cents per day

The more or less hopeful documentary ‘The Lazarus Effect’ (a collaboration between the (RED) Campaign and HBO, produced by Spike Jonze) showcases the incredible power of antiretroviral (ARV) medication. These drugs fight HIV-AIDS and literally bring people who are near death back to life. Only 2 pills per day, for 40 cents.

Lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) medication has existed for decades, but until 2002, it was too expensive to distribute to the developing world. In that year, The Global Fund was established to help eliminate AIDS (as well as TB and malaria), and in six short years, it has helped to put more than 3 million people on ARVs.

Now, the difference between life and death is only 40 cents per day—the cost to fund the ARVs. When patients are given these drugs, a phenomenal effect can happen. A person at death’s door can, in just 60 to 90 days, regain full health. It’s called the “Lazarus effect,” and it’s nothing short of miraculous.

HIV facts today

Even though AIDS now is preventable and treatable, it has killed more than 20 million people in Africa. Currently, 33 million people in the world have HIV, 22 million live in Africa. 67% of people with HIV live in Africa yet the continent is home to just 10% of the world’s population. The disease is the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa with approximately 3,800 people dying every day from AIDS.

Women make up approximately 60% of estimated HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa and, as a result, women and children are the hardest hit by the disease. An estimated 14.1 million children in Africa have been orphaned because of AIDS already and this number is growing. More than 1,000 children, most within sub-Saharan Africa, are infected with HIV each day.

40 cents but still out of reach

It costs around 40 cents a day for the 2 antiretroviral pills needed to help keep someone living with HIV alive and healthy. Yet more than 70% of people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $2 a day.

Another problem is that people living in rural areas don’t have access to clinics or medical posts where they could be tested, given the ARV medication and be monitored on a regular basis. Some are living many days travelling from the nearest clinic.

This problem is also seen in the IHCC clinic, the AIDS/HIV clinic in Accra (Ghana) we have supported over the last few years. The poorest of the poor come to this clinic, but they cannot afford the daily cost for the pills and the -very low- cost of consultation. Most cannot even pay the bus ride to the clinic.

Nowadays, Ghana has very cheap health insurance. It’s called NHIS (National Health Insurance Scheme), and the IHCC clinic is accredited. The insurance covers the ARV medication and consultation, but the 24 Cedis (14 dollar) per year it costs, is too much for these patients.

So, despite the hopeful improvements that have been made over the last few years, and the efforts of the Global Funds to provide free ARV medication to African countries, the reality is that these live-saving pills are still out of reach for many people.

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