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Zimbabwe: Saving Children from HIV/AIDS

  • Joe DeCapua

A five-year, $45 million program has been launched to eliminate pediatric HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. Many pregnant women there do not have access to the latest drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus.

The U.S.-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation will lead the effort in Zimbabwe, thanks to a grant from the London-based Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

Philip O’Brian is the Glaser Foundations executive vice-president for communications, advocacy and development.

“Zimbabwe was picked for two reasons. One, because over the last five or six years, we have seen significant progress in the parts of the country where we have been working. But more importantly, the overall reason was that relatively few pregnant women in Zimbabwe have access to health services. And that’s particularly true in rural areas,” he says.

Many in need of treatment

About 13 percent of the pregnant women in Zimbabwe are HIV positive

“What we want to be able to do is get the appropriate counseling and health care services to all of those women across all of the country. And this grant will enable us to support that sort of service in Ministry of Health clinics throughout the whole country,” says O’Brien.

That 13 percent infection rate for pregnant women is among the highest in southern Africa.

“At the moment,” O’Brien says, “most of those women who do get treatment get the least effective form of treatment. And therefore, there’s a very strong probability that their children will be born HIV positive. And if those kids don’t get treatment over the course of the first year of their life, then 50 percent of them will be dead by the time they get to their second birthday.”

The least effective treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission is a single dose of the drug Navirapine given during pregnancy. The most effective is a multi-dose, multi-drug treatment called ART, or Advanced Retroviral Therapy.

The Glaser Foundation official says, “We won’t be supplying the drugs. They will come from the government’s own resources. They will probably get money from the Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria), if not this year then in 2012, for that. What we will do is provide training services, counseling services for women. We will also do work on testing.”

The project also aims to help the 150,000 children under age 15 in Zimbabwe who are HIV positive.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation now has more than 5,000 sites in 17 countries. It says it has reached nearly 11 million women with services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.