October 27, 2006
A training program based on Israeli physicians' experiences in caring for HIV-positive Ethiopian migrants to the Jewish state is helping doctors in Ethiopia improve treatment. Now in its fourth year, the program is part of a multi-million dollar commitment on behalf of President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, where around 1.5 million people, including more than 100,000 children, are infected.
Half of the 4,000 HIV patients in Israel are of Ethiopian descent. By treating them, Israeli doctors have gained expertise at instructing people challenged by poverty and a lack of education in strictly adhering to an antiretroviral (ARV) regimen. "The drugs help, but if the patient doesn't understand he has to take them regularly, he will stop taking them when he feels better," said Shlomo Maayan, director of Hadassah Hospital's AIDS center and a leader of the Ethiopia project.
In Israel, HIV/AIDS patients consult with doctors, therapists, pharmacists and nutritionists, and they receive lifetime monitoring and treatment. In contrast, HIV treatment efforts in Ethiopia are impeded by a weak infrastructure and a scarcity of trained staff. "Because we have a lot of [HIV] patients in Africa you spend only 10 or 15 minutes with a patient and the only thing you discuss is health conditions," said Nebiyu Bekele, a physician undergoing the program at Hadassah.
So far, about 40 Ethiopian doctors have participated in the two-week program. During the sessions, the physicians share their experiences with their Israeli counterparts, observe sessions with patients, and learn how to administer ARVs. Tariku Mekonnen, a participant, said the training will help Ethiopian doctors delay the onset of AIDS in patients. "The final outcome is that the patients [will get] better," he said.