Antwerp: "Resistant AIDS virus threatens"

The Antwerp Tropical Medicine Institute is sounding the alarm. The body castigates Antwerp social services for refusing for the past 18 months to pay for care for illegal aliens who are HIV positive. The Institute says that there is now a threat that a resistant virus could now spread.

During the past year and a half around twenty people who were HIV positive and who were not getting any money for their treatment from Antwerp social services visited the Antwerp Tropical Medicine Institute.

Local social services are supposed to help undocumented people to acquire urgent medical help, but Antwerp social services is refusing to foot the bill if people can also get the drugs in their country of origin.

Dirk Avonts, who sits on the social services council for the greens, says that the issue of antiretroviral drugs already formed a problem under the last administration: "The new council has confirmed that each case involving a seropositive person has to be judged individually and that there is no general arrangement. That is crazy. Every HIV patient requires antiretrovirals."

If no antiretrovirals are administered the virus multiplies and the patient develops full-blown AIDS. A dose that is too low will encourage resistant HIV viruses.

Dr Ludwig Apers of the Antwerp Tropical Medicine Institute:

"This is dangerous for the patient, their partner and public health, especially as we know that many undocumented people will seek a refuge in prostitution in order to survive."

The President of Antwerp Social Services, Liesbeth Homans (Flemish nationalist), defends the approach: "We judge it on a case by case basis to determine whether people who are HIV positive can get antiretrovirals in their country of origin. If this is the case, we don't see why Antwerp social services should pay for expensive antiretrovirals. The federal authorities do not cover the entire cost of the treatment either."

This week the Federal Health and Asylum Ministers meet to discuss the matter.