Africa And World AIDS Day: Preventing Pediatric AIDS

Saturday, December 1, is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. According to the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS, there were 33 point two million people living with AIDS in 2007, including two point five million children. Over 28 million of them are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is “leadership”. 

Pamela Barnes is president and chief executive officer of the U.S.-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Her organization has been working with African governments to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and treat children and families affected by the disease.

From Johannesburg, South Africa Barnes explains to VOA what her organization is doing to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“I do think that we’ve been able to provide a sense of hope to so many people with the program that now gives us the ability to prevent mother to child transmission and programs that provide medicine to people who are HIV positive. But all of the work that we do in countries with ministries of health requires leadership from within the countries. And that to me is going to be a very critical part about our ability to be able to expand the program to reach the people who need the services,” she said.

Barnes said the kind of leadership that is required includes people taking the initiative to be tested for HIV/AIDS, including national leaders.

“Let me give you this example. I was in Tanzania in September of this year, and I learned, when I was visiting very rural clinics in northern Tanzania, I learned that President Jakaya Kikwete, the president of the country and the first lady went on national television and were tested on national television for HIV. And as I was traveling out to rural clinics in northern Tanzania, I was learning from the doctors and nurses that the numbers of that came forward to be tested increased significantly after the president and first lady went on the television to be tested themselves. That’s leadership,” Barnes said.

She said her organization has been working with African governments to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and to treat children and families affected by the disease.

“The primary focus of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation is a program that allows us to train health care providers, to treat pregnant women who are HIV positive and to help them have HIV-negative babies. If a mom has a baby who is HIV-positive, we then can provide mom, baby and family with the critical anti-retroviral drugs necessary to help them live health lives,” she said.

Barnes, who is in Africa to visit her foundation’s work in 14 African countries, said her organization’s work has been made possible mostly with support of President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

“Keep in mind that 70 percent of the people in the world living with HIV are in Sub-Saharan Africa.  So here where the disease is much prevalent, we’ve made much great progress in the last three to five years in being able to provide antiretroviral drugs. And the main impetus for that program has come from the funding of the United States government, providing anti-retroviral treatment and training people for them to be able to get those medicines to women, children and families where the disease is most prevalent,” Barnes said.

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