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Saving Kenyan Babies From HIV/AIDS - 2002-08-14

The Kenyan government launched a new program (Wednesday) to provide free drugs to all H-I-V infected women when they give birth to protect their babies from the virus.

Every year some 50-thousand Kenyan women pass the H-I-V virus on to their children during childbirth.

Health experts say half of those children could be saved if the AIDs drug Nevirapine were administered at birth.

Kenyan Health Minister Sam Ongeri announced Wednesday that the government is now providing the drug for free. He urged mothers to take advantage of the service.

He says, "The mother requires one dose of Nevirapine on the onset of labor while the baby's dose is administered hours after birth. Services are and will continue to be absolutely free in government health facilities. Go there. It will be a free service. It is therefore my passionate appeal to you to make use of these services in an attempt to strive to bring forth HIV free babies."

While celebrating the launch of the government's new program, Mr. Ongeri lamented the fact that anti-retroviral drugs which prolong the life of people living with H-I-V/ Aids are not so easily available in Kenya.

He says, "What would be the moral right to save the child and tell the mother, we are saving your baby and not you? Is it fair that you only save one and discard the other? We should also be able to treat the mother effectively with the anti-retroviral drugs. We should also be able to treat the other spouse."

A year's supply of anti-retroviral drugs cost about 800 dollars a year per patient, way beyond the budget of the majority of Kenyans who live on less than one dollar a day.

Less than 5-thousand of the two and a half million H-I-V positive Kenyans are currently on anti-retroviral medication.

Campaigners are lobbying the major pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices and for generic versions of the drugs to be more readily available.