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Rwanda AIDS Conference Targets Programs for Children


About 700,000 children worldwide are being infected with HIV every year, the majority of who live in developing countries. But there are many challenges in finding, testing, and treating these children, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Cathy Majtenyi is attending an international AIDS conference in the Rwandan capital of Kigali and files this report for VOA.

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho told conference participants that children who may have been exposed to HIV have the right to be tested and informed of their HIV status.

But the head of Rwanda's Commission Nationale de Lutte Contre le SIDA says there are many obstacles blocking children from realizing what she calls this "human rights issue."

"Because parents feel themselves responsible for the HIV status of their children, they cannot face the situation for themselves," she said. "Parents do not know how to talk about AIDS with their children. But, more than that, health workers fail to manage and treat children infected by HIV. They do not know when and how to prescribe ARVs [antiretroviral drugs]. They do not have sufficient skills on how to counsel children."

Besides stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, experts say inadequate HIV testing, treatment, and counseling facilities for children also make identifying and treating HIV-positive children in Africa very difficult.

Experts making presentations at the HIV/AIDS Implementers' Meeting being held in Kigali said that health care professionals can begin to look for potentially HIV-positive children in prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs, available in most countries.

Most HIV-positive children are infected during the birth and nursing process.

A medical official with Tororo District Hospital in Uganda, John Obonyo, explains how his hospital locates HIV positive children.

"We are trying to reach, through the mother, the infected child and the families," he said. "So what we do in the routine counseling and testing is that when we identify a family with an individual who is HIV positive, this being the mother, or even the child, we also try to map out where they are located and seek their permission to visit their homes in order to follow up the families as well.

Among initiatives being used or recommended in African facilities include: training health care workers on how to test children for HIV and counsel positive children and their families; encouraging HIV positive parents to test their children; extending HIV testing and counseling services to pediatric wards in hospitals and communities; and working with the media to expose the issue of children and HIV/AIDS.

The four-day HIV/AIDS Implementers' Meeting is being sponsored by the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, along with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Bank, and three U.N. agencies.

Following the conference theme, "Scaling Up Through Partnerships," about 2,000 participants from around the globe are looking at ways of how governments, business, the health care sector and others can collaborate in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly hard hit by the scourge. Although the continent contains 10 percent of the world's population, it is home to almost 70 percent of people around the globe living with HIV/AIDS.

The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is a five-year, $15 billion initiative to help countries treat and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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