IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 186, 18 June 2004
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IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 186, 18 June 2004

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


ZIMBABWE: AIDS activists complain conference ignored them
ZIMBABWE: Action plan set to help orphans
ZIMBABWE: Limited response to PMTC programme
ZIMBABWE: Mugabe calls for cheaper AIDS drugs
MOZAMBIQUE: New hope for HIV-infected children
MALI: Excision practiced where pre-Islamic traditions strongest
AFRICA: UN welcomes G8 endorsement of HIV vaccine initiative
UGANDA: Distribution of free anti-AIDS drugs begins
AFRICA: Church leaders to get more involved in fighting HIV/AIDS


1. Food security and AIDS - a threat to rural Africa
2. Test Your HIV/AIDS Knowledge



ZIMBABWE: AIDS activists complain conference ignored them

Zimbabwe's first national AIDS conference ended in acrimony on Friday, with AIDS activists complaining that they had been sidelined from the high-profile event.

In a statement circulated among delegates at the three-day conference, People Living with AIDS (PWAs) accused the National AIDS Council (NAC) and the Ministry of Health, the co-organisers of the event, of ignoring their inputs while giving medical experts and dignitaries the opportunity to air their views uninterrupted.

"We have long said that HIV and AIDS is not a health issue, but a developmental issue. We are tired of panellists ... [and] doctors telling us acronyms - "scientific" evidence that has nothing to do with the reality we are living under," said the statement.

"Without the positive voice, without the women and men living with the virus, where would they get the specimens for their laboratories, their so-called evidence?", it added.

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ZIMBABWE: Action plan set to help orphans

In an effort to respond to the ballooning orphan crisis, the Zimbabwean government is set to launch a national plan of action for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), officials told a national conference on HIV and AIDS this week.

As the growing number of children losing parents to AIDS undermines already overstretched communities and extended families, the plan aims to provide a framework for interventions for OVCs to ensure that laws protecting children are enforced.

The main areas of focus are education for OVCs, support to child-headed households and issues around foster care.

Presenting the findings of a UNAIDS-sponsored rapid assessment on OVCs to the conference, Joyce Makufa said one of the major realisations was that the national response had so far been inadequate in addressing "the scale and level of needs and rights of vulnerable children. Even at government level, the data on orphans and vulnerable children is inadequate to make informed decisions." Government figures of over a million orphans are believed to under-estimate the extent of the crisis.

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ZIMBABWE: Limited response to PMTC programme

Zimbabwe's efforts to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children is being undermined by a limited response to the initiative, the head of the programme, Dr Agnes Mahomva, told a national AIDS conference this week.

The government rolled out the first phase of its prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme in 2002. Currently, out of the 53 district hospitals in the country, 43 have started administering free single doses of the drug Nevirapine - which can reduce transmission of the virus by more than half - to HIV-positive expectant mothers.

"The uptake in the programme has been disappointing. In 2002 only 35 percent of the identified mothers [in specific sites] came forward for the programme. For 2003 the uptake increased to 56 percent, but the numbers of children who came for follow-up programmes is 29 percent," said Mahomva. Children who have received Nevirapine are expected to be tested for HIV after 18 months.

The limited response by HIV-positive expectant mothers appears to be rooted in the fear of stigma and discrimination.

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ZIMBABWE: Mugabe calls for cheaper AIDS drugs

About US $2.8 million (Zim $15 billion) has been made available for the purchase of antiretroviral drugs in public hospitals, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said on Wednesday at the official opening of the first national conference on HIV and AIDS.

"Regrettably, the current drug costs mean we can only reach 10,000 patients. Clearly, there is a need to mobilise more resources and build sustainable partnerships, so that we can reach more patients," said Mugabe.

His government had declared the lack of access to AIDS drugs a national emergency two years ago to facilitate the importation cheaper generic drugs and allow manufacturing by local companies. Mugabe urged pharmaceutical firms to work with the government so as to "bring the prices of drugs down and enable more of our people to benefit".

Access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment was one of the priorities of his government, Mugabe said, but "has to be viewed in the context of comprehensive programmes for AIDS care that include access to counselling and treatment of opportunistic infections, community-based care, and orphan and psychosocial support".

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MOZAMBIQUE: New hope for HIV-infected children

In a large sunny room decorated with big bright paintings, young children play with toys while others sit on their mothers' laps or on new wooden chairs made especially for them.

The paintings are the creative work of school children, supervised by Mozambican artists; the symbolic red ribbons in the pictures are a reminder of those who have died of AIDS and give a hint as to why the children are here.

They are waiting in the new Paediatric Day Hospital in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, where Dr Paula Vaz, who heads the hospital, can now offer her young patients a far wider range of support services in a child-friendly environment.

The hospital, supported by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the French Embassy, has replaced the cramped clinic in Maputo Central Hospital where Vas worked for a decade, and is bringing new hope to tens of thousands of children with HIV/AIDS.

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MALI: Excision practiced where pre-Islamic traditions strongest

The overwhelming majority of women in Mali still undergo female circumcision in their youth, but attitudes are changing, and now a US $2 million public awareness campaign by Plan International is set to change them even faster.

Boucoum Madina Daff, the Plan International official who will direct the five-year campaign, said the message that female genital mutilation was medically and psychologically harmful and morally wrong would be transmitted to Mali's 11 million people with the help of local radio stations, Muslim religious leaders and griots - traditional folk singers whose ballads often reflect local news and events.

The message would also be put out strongly through women's groups, she added.

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AFRICA: UN welcomes G8 endorsement of HIV vaccine initiative

Two UN agencies on Monday welcomed a decision by the "Group of Eight" (G8) most industrialised countries to form a global consortium for the development of an effective HIV/AIDS vaccine.

The initiative, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, currently being established with backing from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, aims to enhance global collaboration and information sharing among the world's leading HIV vaccine researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS hailed the announcement as a "vital boost" to efforts of finding a way to immunise people against the deadly HI virus.

UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot said in a statement: "The G8's endorsement of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise is a vital boost to help it forge the strategic planning, collaboration and global investment of resources by governments and industry that is commensurate with the intensive effort required to develop a globally accessible and affordable HIV vaccine."

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An American NGO operating in the Central African Republic (CAR) has donated HIV/AIDS testing materials to six Roman Catholic dioceses in the country, state-owned Radio Centrafrique reported.

The donation by the International Partnership for Human Development (IPHD) also included medicines for HIV-related opportunistic diseases and video sets for the screening of sensitisation messages about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The recipients are the Archdiocese of Bangui, the dioceses of the provincial towns of Mbaiki, Berberati, Bambari and Kaga-Bandoro, respectively 107 km southwest, 186 km northwest, 305 km north, 385 km east and 342 km north of the capital, Bangui.

The NGO has also rehabilitated and furnished the headquarters of Caritas Centrafrique, a Roman Catholic NGO located at Centre Jean XXIII in Bangui. The radio quoted IPHD Executive Director Veran Cornway as saying that his organisation would continue to help Caritas through its social and health projects.

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UGANDA: Distribution of free anti-AIDS drugs begins

The health ministry has launched a programme to distribute free anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to people living with AIDS through 26 centres in district and regional referral hospitals across the country.

Health Minister Brig Jim Muhwezi told PlusNews on Friday that arrangements were being made to expand the distribution outlets to reach more people. "The first consignment is worth US $1.3 million while another lot worth $1.7 million will follow," said Muhwezi.

Uganda has an estimated 100,000 people in immediate need of ARVs, but only 10,000 of them have had access to them, mainly through private suppliers. The new programme aims to immediately reach another 2,700 people, especially the poor and civil servants.

"The Joint Clinical Research Centre [a government institution specialising in HIV/AIDS research] is working on a programme to increase the number of centres so that patients can access them, [and] for monitoring purposes," the minister added.

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AFRICA: Church leaders to get more involved in fighting HIV/AIDS

African church leaders said on Friday they would make available drugs used to lessen the severity of HIV/AIDS infection in church-supported health facilities, and become more involved in fighting the stigmatisation of those living with the virus.

"We will make treatment available at church-supported mission hospitals, clinics, dispensaries and health posts," the Rt Rev Nyansanko Ni-Nku, president of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, following a three-day meeting of 200 Protestant church leaders from 39 African countries.

The meeting discussed how Christian congregations could respond more effectively to the AIDS pandemic in the continent.

Ni-Nku said the church would "facilitate the availability" of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. "Most of the people in Africa are among the poorest of the poor [and] live on about a dollar a day, so, however cheap the ARVs become, for some people they will still remain very difficult to access," he explained. "Our goal would be, if we really want to save the population of Africa, that they [ARVs] should be given freely."

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1. Food security and AIDS - a threat to rural Africa

This site by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation looks at the links between food security, poverty and HIV/AIDS, and the existing and potential havoc this combination causes, especially in rural Africa. The disease, combined with poverty and food insecurity, compromises women in particular and there are case studies from Ghana and Uganda, among others.

Downloadable resources include the report: "HIV/AIDS and Nutrition: helping families and communities to cope".

2. Test your HIV/AIDS knowledge

Since the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, misconceptions about the disease have abounded and knowing the facts is critical to protecting yourself from this life-threatening disease.

Test your knowledge with the online HIV/AIDS quiz by the news agency MSNBC.


Recent AFRICA Reports
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 195, 20 August 2004, 20/Aug/04
HIV-positive women speak out, 17/Aug/04
Sexual Offences bill raises many concerns, 13/Aug/04
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 194, 13 August 2004, 13/Aug/04
Removal of generic drugs from WHO list a wake-up call, 6/Aug/04

PlusNews is produced under the banner of RHAIN, the Southern African Regional HIV/AIDS Information Network. RHAIN's members currently include:

  • IRIN
  • Inter Press Service (IPS)
  • Health Systems Trust
  • Health & Development Networks
  • GTZ/Afronets

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