Swiss healthcare company Roche Holding AG agreed to grant the government $1 million to treat 800 HIV/AIDS patients and train medical staff over two years, health officials said last week.
Some of the money is also earmarked to renovate and extend two government clinics that treat HIV/AIDS patients, said Dr Julian Elliot, technical adviser for HIV treatment, care and research at the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs.
One clinic will be in Phnom Penh, he said. The location of the other clinic has not been determined.
“We hope [the Phnom Penh clinic] will be a major institute of training and ongoing support,” Elliot said. About 400 patients will be treated at each clinic, he said. The number of staff to receive training has not been decided.
But a Roche spokesman said by e-mail that the grant’s exact amount had not been announced.
With 20 new infections a day, the country has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Asia, said Tia Phalla, secretary-general for the National AIDS Authority. Currently, he said, only three percent of those who need anti-retroviral therapy receive it.
Statistics from the National Center show the health sector allocated $1.69 per citizen this year in funds for HIV/AIDS treatment, education and research.
Besides funding the project, Roche will contribute diagnostic tests and provide low-cost doses of its own Invarise antiviral drug, a Roche spokesperson told Reuters in Zurich, Switzerland. It is Roche’s policy to not force its drugs on HIV/AIDS patients in impoverished countries, Reuters reported.
It is not a problem if Roche provides its own drugs, Elliot said, though the donation will be used to pay for drugs produced by other companies as well. “[Roche is] providing funding for whatever drugs are needed,” he said.
Geetha Sethi, UNAIDS country program adviser, welcomed Roche’s support. “Cheaper drugs are definitely a priority,” she said.
Roche has donated HIV/AIDS support to African countries in the past, but Cambodia is the first Asian country it has targeted, said Dr Mean Chhi Vun, the deputy director of the National Center.