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A critical shortage of doctors and nurses means people are dying unnecessarily from HIV/Aids in southern Africa, according to a report. In some areas, drugs are available but there is nobody to administer them, the Medecins sans Frontieres report says.

A BBC correspondent says this is a reality check for those who thought the fight against HIV/Aids was simply a matter of more anti-retroviral drugs. MSF criticises donors who fund new health clinics but not nurses’ wages. MSF praises efforts to roll out ARVs and build health clinics, but its head of mission in South Africa, Eric Goemaere, says that is only half the solution. “We see across Africa too many empty clinics – empty because at the end of the day there is no real treatment available there, so patients, people, prefer to stay at home and die there.”

‘No choice’

The BBC’s Peter Greste in South Africa says doctors and nurses are underpaid, overworked and disillusioned, and they are leaving in droves. In 2005, for example, 44 nurses graduated in Malawi while 86 left the country. The solution, says Dr Goemaere, is to improve working conditions and give nurses the power to prescribe drugs – something that until now has been the exclusive responsibility of doctors. “Of course, you take risk in using nurses to do what in the UK would be only an issue not even from a medical practitioner but a specialist,” he said.

“In this case, we have no choice.” The World Health Organization’s minimum standard is 20 doctors for every 100,000 patients.

Lesotho has five, Malawi has two and Mozambique has 2.6, MSF says.

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  • This is a sad epidemic, we need more nurses of color that are concerned with the welfare of human beings