Patrick Chitumba Senior Reporter
OVER 50,000 children below the age of 14 are failing to access life-saving HIV drugs, according to shock new statistics by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
The ministry estimates that 104,000 children are HIV positive in Zimbabwe – but only half have been tested and put on Anti-retroviral treatment. Dr Angela Mushavi, the National Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and Paediatrics co-ordinator in the Ministry of Health and Child Care said it was a “societal challenge” to ensure the children are tested and get treatment, which is free.
“We’re not reaching out to all the affected children as we should be doing,” she said. “There’re a number of challenges that we are dealing with. Part of the reason is that children are less likely to get tested for HIV because children don’t visit health centres on their own like adults.
“We’re losing children unnecessarily because we’re not taking them for testing and treatment, even if we know that their parents died of HIV/Aids.
“Society should work with health workers so that the children are tested, and if need be access treatment soon.”
She also blamed health workers whom she said were reluctant to put children on treatment.
“Other areas have got no facilities to treat children living with the virus. For example, Mpilo Central Hospital might have facilities for the children but other clinics in the city might not have.
“That will act as a barrier for access to medication,” said Dr Mushavi.
“There is, therefore, a need to increase paediatric coverage in the country as we work towards putting at least 85 percent of the children on treatment.”
Last year, about 11,000 children aged between one and 14 died due to HIV related causes.
National Aids Council (Nac) communications manager, Madeline Dube, said inadequate treatment was a result of funding constraints.
“We receive Aids levy and we set aside 55 percent towards treatment. For example, we receive an estimate of about $36 million per year and of that $19 million goes towards treatment,” said Dube.
“So our parent ministry is the one that has programmes which we follow.”
She, however, said the diagnosis for children was different from that of adults hence the challenges in reaching out to minors.
“We don’t have to lose these children, not at all, and it’s a cause for concern. The other problem is that the country was late in the training of health workers in the initiation programme of positive children on the drugs,” said Dube.
At least 1,4 million adults are living with HIV countrywide, of which 955,000 are on ART.
Latest reports indicate that 49,605 adults succumbed to HIV-related diseases last year, down from 50,230 in 2012.
The national prevalence rate is around 14 percent.