AIDS campaigners in Namibia said on Wednesday a government decision to withdraw disability grants from people with HIV who were still capable of working could accelerate the onset of full-blown AIDS.
Until now anybody with HIV has been able to claim a monthly disability grant of 300 Namibian dollars ($46.95) but from August the government has said only those medically certified as at least 50 percent disabled and so unable to work will qualify.
“This practice will aggravate the HIV/AIDS disease,” said a social worker with Lironga Eparu, an organisation of people with HIV/AIDS whose name in the northern Kwangari language means “Learn to Survive”.
Around one in five Namibian adults are HIV positive, according to UNAIDS.
Kalumbi Shangula, minister of health and social services, announced the restrictions on grants to HIV positive people late last month, saying some were claiming disability grants even though they were still working.
Shangula was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. Neither the ministry nor UNAIDS could give any indication how many HIV positive people would lose the disability grant.
On Tuesday the Legal Assistance Centre, an independent advocacy organisation, published an open letter to Shangula saying the government had failed to give those affected by the withdrawal of the grant time to put their case.
The Legal Assistance Centre said it was concerned that “denial of some form of assistance to people living with HIV will in fact ensure that they progress faster to full-blown AIDS for lack of adequate treatment, care, nutrition, water and shelter, for which the disability grant catered”.
Namibia was providing free life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs to some 11,000 people by the end of June, which it said put it well on track to meet its target of 16,000 by the end of 2005.
But the social worker for Lironga Eparu, who declined to be identified, said that patients who responded to treatment with an increased CD4 count - taken as a sign of the immune system recovering - now risked losing disability grants.
“Our people are poor and live in squatter camps and informal settlements. Most of them cannot read and write. Although their CD count improves, where will they get food?” she said.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.