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ETHIOPIA: US funds to help cut mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS

Photo: Anthony Mitchell/IRIN
AIDS warning poster in Ethiopia
ADDIS ABABA, 9 September 2003 (PlusNews) - Ethiopia has been awarded US $5 million to help prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their unborn babies, officials announced on Monday.

The funding is part of US President George Bush's five-year US $15-billion global initiative to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Health Minister Dr Kebede Tadesse warned that HIV/AIDS could soon become the lead cause of mortality among children under five years old in Ethiopia.

"The tragedy of HIV/AIDS is heartbreaking," said US ambassador to Ethiopia, Aurelia Brazeal, at the launch of the funding initiative. "Especially excruciating is seeing the preventable passing of the HIV virus to babies," she added.

Ethiopia is one of 14 priority countries set to receive funding through the US initiative. Some 2.2 million Ethiopians – 200,000 of them children - live with the virus.

Mother-to-child transmission, which affects 60,000 babies each year, is the second highest cause of the spread of HIV in the country.

Bjorn Ljungqvist, head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Ethiopia, said almost 80 percent of children infected would die before they reached the age of two. "Each day more babies are infected," he said. "Yet effective means exist to avoid this tragedy."

The US funding is to be used to help provide the anti-retroviral drug Nevirapine to some 200,000 mothers and their children living with the virus. It aims to cut transmission rates by a quarter within five years.

So far four sites are operating country-wide to inform women on the dangers of spreading the virus to their children and how to prevent transmission, but under the new US-funded scheme coverage will be expanded to 15 medical centers in every region of the country.

The funding will be distributed through the ministry of health, the UNICEF and the US Centre for Disease Control.

Theme (s): Children,

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

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