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HIV/Aids impact on society devastating

Gift Phiri

SEVERELY emaciated eight-year-old Lucy gestures from her hospital bed that she wants to sit up to have her nutritious maize-soya blend porridge.

e=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>It is the first time Lucy, an orphan who weighs just 10 kg, has asked for food in several weeks. The return of her appetite brings a broad smile to the tired face of her aunt, cradling her skeletal torso on a hospital bed at Harare Central Hospital.

With both her parents dead and the Aids virus slowly gnawing away at her immune system since birth, it is hard to imagine that Lucy is actually one of the luckier ones.

Taken in on Harare Central Hospital’s recently introduced Opportunistic Infection (OI) Clinic and started on a course of anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) this week, she now has a reasonable chance of slowly recovering.

Sadly, most relatives who cannot afford to take care of such children, let alone pay for virus suppressing pills, reject most of the thousands of children affected by Aids in Zimbabwe.

“She is not in a good state now but she will make it,” said a nurse tending to the ward. “Other kids who have come here in the past were worse but they managed to recover. The pills really do work.”

The drug costs $100 000 per month per child and is sourced through partnerships with local manufacturers such as Varichem.

Ravaged by three successive droughts that have pushed food shortages to crisis levels and with HIV currently killing at least 3 000 people a week, Zimbabwe is being seriously devastated by Aids.

Although Zimbabwe could emerge from its food-supply crisis following rains that fell in most parts of the country, the spectre of HIV and Aids continues to stalk the land.

“The potential impact of HIV on society could be devastating,” Aids and TB programmes coordinator in the Ministry of Health, Dr Owen Magurungu, said. “Our major worry is to make sure that we have a reliable and adequate supply of drugs. We have received $2 billion from the Aids Levy and $10 billion from the Ministry of Finance.”

Magurungu said five pilot sites countrywide had been granted OI centre status. These include Harare and Mpilo hospitals, which are expected to take about 1 000 patients each.

The other three centres will take in between 500 and 600 patients each.

“Of the 4 000 patients we aim to treat, at least 800 are children and we expect to have 260 000 of an estimated 520 000 HIV-positive people on the programme by the end of the year,” Magurungu said.

To be eligible for the programme, patients have to undergo a CD4 count, which is a measure of the body’s immune system. Only patients with a CD4 count below 200 are considered.

Prevention of parent to child transmission project coordinator with Medecins Sans Fron-tieres (Doctors Without Borders), Dr Jacinta Hurst, said the CD4 count helps to monitor the effectiveness and possible side effects of the ARVs.

“On this programme we are providing the technical support and the development of tools for delivering the ARVs,” Hurst said.

According to Women and Aids Support Network (Wasn), Nevirapine, an antiretroviral drug that helps to reduce parent-to-child-transmission (PTCT) of HIV, has helped in mitigating the number of children born HIV-positive by about 50%.

A Wasn official said an HIV-positive pregnant mother takes one 200mg tablet of Nevirapine during labour. The baby is then given a 20mg dose in liquid form within the first three days of its life, as a precautionary measure.

“Out of 600 000 Zimbabwean women who give birth annually, 200 000 are HIV-positive and 30% of them transmit the virus to their babies,” the official said. “This means that about 60 000 babies are infected at birth. However, the use of Nevirapine further reduces this figure by half to about 30 000 babies. Effectively, this means that the lives of 30 000 more babies can be saved through the use of Nevirapine annually.”

Dr Hurst noted that the number of people living with HIV in the country was ominous.

Since the discovery of Zimbabwe’s first case of HIV in 1985, the disease has continued to decimate the population and an estimated 1,8 million are HIV-positive out of a population of 12,5 million. Of this figure, 1,54 million are adults within the age group of 15 to 49, about 870 000 are women and 165 000 are children.

Despite this situation, government claims Zimbabwe is one of the few developing countries which are slowly but surely winning the battle against the epidemic.

It says infection rates have dropped from 33% of the population in 2002 to 24,6% last year.

Health minister Dr David Parirenyatwa last December said the campaign against HIV/Aids is working.

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