ZIMBABWE: Responding to the PMTCT challenge

Photo: Obinna Anyadike/IRIN
HIV-positive couple, HIV-negative baby
harare, 18 January 2008 (PlusNews) - A new five-year initiative is set to improve access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services for pregnant mothers in Zimbabwe.

The scheme, launched in Murewa District 86km northeast of the capital, Harare, on Wednesday will allow the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) to expand its Zimbabwe Family AIDS Initiatives and national prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme.

"If we reached all pregnant women in Zimbabwe who are HIV positive, we could prevent thousands of infections each year," said Pam Barnes, president of EGPAF.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide the initiative with US$12.5 million, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) US$ 2 million, with additional support from the United States Centres for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the multinational Johnson & Johnson.

More than 17,000 children are infected with HIV every year in Zimbabwe, a figure "that is unacceptable", said James McGee, the US ambassador to Zimbabwe, who attended the launch of the initiative.

According to the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MOHCW), 1.3 million Zimbabweans are living with HIV/AIDS and an estimated 22,000 are newly infected every year. Of the 360,000 women that fall pregnant annually, 60,000 are HIV positive.

"It will take commitment and strong leadership to overcome the challenges that we are all facing. And, together, in strong partnership, we will make a difference," McGee said.

Expanding service delivery

Zimbabwe began its PMTCT programme in 1999 with a pilot in four districts; the programme is now nation wide.

"We want to make sure we reduce HIV infection in children by 95 percent by 2010, it's a huge target but as Zimbabweans we are resilient," said Owen Mugurungi, chief coordinator, AIDS & TB (tuberculosis) at the MOHCW.

EGPAF has provided direct support for PMTCT to more than 330 public health facilities in over 24 districts in Zimbabwe, helping over 280,000 pregnant women gain access to PMTCT services.

Mary Teurai Zanga (28) from Chitungwiza, a satellite town 35km from Harare, enrolled on a PMTCT programme after she tested HIV positive in 2001.

"In 2005 I got pregnant and was given Nevirapine [an antiretroviral drug that reduces mother to child transmission] when I had labour pains. When my baby girl, Danai, was born I exclusively breast fed for 12 weeks" Zanga told IRIN/PlusNews

With an irrepresable smile, she added that when she took Danai for testing she was found to be HIV negative.

According to health minister David Parirenyatwa, the economic hardships faced by Zimbabwe had impacted on the health sector. But despite the challenges, the MOHCW was doing all it could to help.

"As of December 2007, over 7,200 HIV infected children were being prescribed antiretroviral treatment", he said, and according to the MOHCW, 96,000 people in Zimbabwe are currently receiving ARVs compared to a target of 100,000 for 2007.

In November 2007 Zimbabwe registered a second decline in HIV prevalence with rates, falling by 10 percent over the past five years. Government statistics now put the level among the adult population at 15.6 percent.

[See also:  HIV rate falls again]


Theme (s): Gender - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews,

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

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DFID - UK Department for International Development
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