Zimbabwe’s HIV Positive Children Losing Out On ARVs

According to Head of the Aids and Tuberculosis Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Owen Mugurungi , of the 105 740 children living with HIV and Aids in Zimbabwe, only 25 000 were on treatment.

A United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report said 100 children under 5 years of age were dying each day in Zimbabwe, mostly from HIV/AIDS related illnesses when drugs were available.

Medical experts said not enough information was being given to parents by responsible authorities.

A National Pharmacy official said: “It’s true that we have a lot of stock of paediatric drugs but uptake has been very low.  From my understanding the major reason of low uptake is the reluctance by doctors to put infants on ARVs and to us it’s a worrisome development. “

Grace Nyamhunga  of Karoi said  her two year old child was born HIV positive but was not put on ARVs immediately . She said this was despite that doctors had told her that the child was HIV positive.

“When I gave birth at Chitindiva clinic two years ago, the nurses said they did not have the HIV facilities. They said I should go to Karoi Hospital. As a poor rural person I failed to go to Karoi until last year when the health of my child deteriorated,” she said.

She said she later took the child to Chinhoyi hospital through the help of her brother who stays there. The child was later put on treatment.

Dr Muguringi said 95 percent of children who were HIV positive acquired the virus from their mothers through birth, an indication that the prevention of mother to child transmission programmes were not working properly.

He said there was need for massive education to pregnant mothers.

Recently National AIDS Council Media and communications officer Orirando Manwere said: “Stocks of ARV syrup for children and other paediatric drugs are expiring in the country’s hospitals while children are dying every day.”

He said some parents were reluctant to take their children to health centres for HIV and AIDS testing due to stigma.

“We  are worried  as  NAC to note that  development while policy  makers  are  not  saying  anything to  address  that  situation. There is need for education awareness among the communities. They need to be told where to get these drugs and the benefits. We are denying children their right to health and we are destroying our own future.”

“The coverage on HIV diagnosis on children is not pleasing at the moment.  We are facing problems  of  health  workers hesitating to initiate ART (antiretroviral treatment) on children They  are not  yet  confident  in doing  the  job… but  we  have embarked on a training  programme.”

A 2008 study on the factors contributing to the low uptake of paediatric ART in Zimbabwe showed that one of the challenges was that there were few officials trained in the field, and among those trained, the staff turnover was very high because of low salaries.

The obstacle to treatment for many children living with HIV in Zimbabwe was that they could not access ARVs on their own. The law requires them to do so in the company of parents and guardians.

NCA Chief  executive, Dr Tapiwa Magure, told Radio VOP, that his organisation had successfully  trained  thousands  of  health workers  to carry out educational  programmes  to pregnant mothers on how and where to get paediatric treatment.

“After realising the great  loss  of lives  the  country  was experiencing  from innocent young souls  mainly from lack of information, we  have  trained  and re-trained  hundreds  of  health workers. It’s true that tonnes of paediatric drugs and ARVs for children are expiring.

“As you know the issue of children is very delicate. If one is not fully trained in dealing with them he or she usually hesitates and this is what is exactly happening. However working closely with the Ministry of Health, Global Fund and various partners we have managed to mobilise resources for the training of the manpower, which we believe is now confident in dealing with children infected with HIV and Aids.

“We have also managed to secure some more CD4 count machines to assist in this issue and very soon they will be in the country.”

According to the Central Statistics Office, infant mortality rate stood at 67 per 1000 live births as of November 2009, while under five mortality rate, was at 94 per 1000 live births.