Lack of access to water hampers Africa's fight against Aids

Access to clean water is essential for HIV positive patients who receive ARVs.

A beaded Aidsawareness ribbon. Picture:

LONDON - Lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation in southern Africa hampers the fight against HIV/Aids by reducing the effectiveness of life-saving drugs, according to a study marking World Aids Day.

Access to clean water is essential for HIV-positive patients who receive antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, because they need 1.5 litres of water per day just to absorb the medicine, said a report published by WaterAid and SAfAids charities.

Diarrhoea, a disease related to contaminated water which affects 90 percent of people living with HIV in southern Africa, also compromises the effectiveness of ARV drugs.

"There has not ... been a focus on making sure people living with HIV/Aids also have clean water, basic toilets and the means to wash themselves and keep their surroundings clean," Barbara Frost, WaterAid chief executive, said in a statement.

Over a third of sub-Saharan Africa's population, where 70 percent of world's HIV-positive people live, do not have access to clean water and the majority do not have access to adequate sanitation.

The study focused on HIV-positive people living in Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia, some of the countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world.

Research showed that in all four countries access to clean water was difficult because water points were far away, supplies were intermittent or the price of water was high.

Long queues at water points also prove a challenge for HIV-positive patients who need to keep to strict ARV medication schedules.

A person living with HIV needs 100 litres of water per day for drinking, food preparation and washing, and mothers living with HIV need clean water for baby formula.

Aids campaigners said on Monday the world had finally reached "the beginning of the end" of the Aids pandemic that has infected and killed millions in the past 30 years but warned that gains could easily be reversed.

"If the world does not prioritise water and sanitation hygiene issues, all gains made in the HIV response will be reversed," said Lois Chingandu, SAfAids executive director.