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Fighting AIDS In Mozambique - 2003-07-24

In Mozambique, as in most sub-Saharan African countries, statistics don’t tell the whole story about HIV/AIDS. U-N estimates say well over a million people are believed infected with the AIDS virus, most of them women. But a humanitarian worker says the figures often don’t reflect the true impact of the disease.

Louise Robinson is HIV/AIDS and health coordinator in Mozambique for the humanitarian organization CARE. She says it’s been difficult getting accurate statistics on the prevalence of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

She says, "HIV/AIDS is a very serious problem here as it is in most southern African countries and most African countries. It’s slightly lower prevalence than some of the neighboring countries, but our prevalence rates vary according to the area within the country. The total HIV prevalence rate is around 14 percent currently. But the country is huge, very long and very thin. And we have very much higher rates than that in the central zones and in some areas of the north and in some areas of the south."

But while statistics tell one story, personal experience tells another.

She says, "I have worked in several countries in southern Africa and HIV has touched me hugely in all the countries I’ve worked. In one of the previous countries I worked within six months of arriving in the country I lost two guards to HIV and AIDS. And then my maid who looked after my three small children, her granddaughter, who was only aged three, died of AIDS. Since coming to Mozambique – I’ve only been here a fairly short time – HIV has impacted my own household again, again with people working with my household and also my neighbors."

The link between poverty and HIV/AIDS is becoming widely recognized. She says Mozambique is among the poorest countries in the world, which makes it much more difficult to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

She says, "In high prevalence areas, the impact is really hard to describe to somebody who’s not there and witnessing. A whole generation is being impacted. There’s a generation of younger and middle-aged people, 15 to 49 year olds, many of whom are sick, many of whom have died already. Many of the older generation are witnessing their children sick, witnessing their children dying, taking on the care of the children. The children themselves are having to witness their parents being very ill, their parents dying. They’re taking on extra burdens in terms of working the land, creating food for the household. Often the children are not able to go to school because of the responsibilities in the household."

The HIV/AIDS coordinator for CARE says antiretroviral drugs are currently available only for a small number of people. However, she says the Mozambican government has approved a plan to increase their use with the help of the Clinton Foundation, founded by former US President Clinton. Ms. Robinson also says Mozambique may benefit as well from President Bush’s 15-billion dollar AIDS initiative.

A wide range of programs is already underway to help AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children. There are also efforts to assist agriculture and micro-credit programs to help people start small businesses.

Humanitarian groups are also working with Mozambique’s Ministry of Health on a number of programs. These include providing the drug Nevirapine to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, home based care, and voluntary counseling and testing centers.