Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bleak future for children with a double burden

....According to the National Aids Council (NAC), a government body, Zimbabwe's orphan population has grown from 345,000 just under a decade ago to some 1.3 million today. About 165,000 of these children are infected with HIV - and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that just over 20,000 need ARVs. However, only 2,000 are receiving the life-prolonging medication.

"Both national HIV/AIDS plans and poverty reduction strategies (in Zimbabwe and various other nations in sub-Saharan Africa) are stronger on proposed policy actions than on budget allocations and clear statements of targets to be achieved for children, young people and HIV/AIDS," said a December 2004 report by the World Bank and UNICEF, titled 'Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers: Do they matter for young people made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS?'.

"The situation of children who have been orphaned or made vulnerable by AIDS receives little attention," added the document.

These words are echoed by Festo Kavishe, UNICEF's representative in Zimbabwe.

"There remains an urgent need to boost prevention, care and treatment programmes in Zimbabwe, ensuring the rights of orphans, while preventing HIV infection in infants and young children," he said.

The plight of HIV-positive orphans reflects the situation in society at large.

According to UNICEF, about 1.6 million of the approximately 13 million Zimbabweans have contracted HIV. Just over 340,000 require anti-retroviral treatment, but only a fraction of these persons are on ARVs.

"There is still a huge gap between those who need and those under anti-retroviral therapy (ART)," Health and Child Welfare Minister David Parirenyatwa said recently.

"By December 2005 only 26,000 were on ARVs. Of these, 20,000 were on government ART programmes, while the remainder were being taken care of by the private sector."

Latest figures from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) put adult prevalence in Zimbabwe at 24.6 percent. However, the 'AIDS Epidemic Update' for 2005, published by UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation, also notes a drop in HIV prevalence among pregnant women from 26 percent in 2002 to 21 percent in 2004....

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