“No child should be born with HIV”.
The powerful message made by First Lady, Amai Grace Mugabe, at the World Aids Day commemorations that Zimbabwe observed on December 1 at Garwe Stadium in Chivhu.
In a speech read on her behalf by Small and Medium Enterprises and Co-operative Development Minister Sithembiso Nyoni, the First Lady said because preventive treatment is readily available and accessible in the country, there was no reason why any baby should be born HIV positive.
“As a mother of the nation, I feel immensely pained to realise that some children are still being born with HIV or acquire it after birth and we eventually lose them,” said Amai Mugabe.
Amai Mugabe runs an orphanage in Mazowe and sometime last year lost one of “her children” from the home due to an Aids-related illness.
The sad news was disclosed by His Excellency President Mugabe.
He said the First Lady was bereaved when she lost one of the minors at the orphanage. She therefore, shows that she takes HIV issues with the gravity that they deserve.
Garwe Stadium was full to capacity with Chivhu community members from all walks of life, children from schools in Chikomba, invited delegates among them the United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Bruce Wharton, UN, World Health Organisation officials and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Brigadier Gerald Gwinji.
Chief Mutekedza of Chikomba district also graced the occasion.
Amai Mugabe called on all mothers to have their children at heart and be united in the elimination of transmission of the HIV virus from the mother to the child.
“All mothers out there, let us unite and vow that no child must be allowed to be infected with HIV at a time there is adequate drugs to prevent HIV,” she said.
Amai Mugabe also spoke against any form of child abuse and called for the country’s courts to pass stiffer penalties on such perpetrators.
“Child abuse of any form is condemned and I call upon the relevant authorities to pass stiffer penalties which will act as a deterrent,” she added.
Amai Mugabe went on to applaud the new WHO guidelines which say that anyone HIV positive with a CD4 count of 500 must immediately commence ART.
The guidelines also say all pregnant mothers, irrespective of their CD4 count, must be commenced on highly active antiretrovirals (HAART) as a measure to prevent the unborn child from getting infected with the HIV virus. The baby is also exposed to the virus during birth and breastfeeding.
All children under five years found to be HIV positive would be commenced on ART. Also to be included on the early treatment regime are discordant couples (where one partner is HIV positive and the other is not) so as to protect the uninfected partner and for the health of the infected partner.
She said despite the limited resources, the country was committed to have everyone in need access ARVs.
“Although resources for HIV would be strained by the recent adoption of the WHO’s 2012 guidelines which increases the number of people in need of ARVs, the Government remains committed to ensure that all people in need of treatment receive the ARV medicines. I want to assure that all people in need of treatment will receive it,” she said.
Amai Mugabe called on the National Aids Council to make available the review of the Zimbabwe National AIDS Strategic Plan phase 2 (ZNASP2). The document states that the country is on course to achieving some of the AIDS targets. The PMTCT programme through the Ministry of Health is running successfully with partners like EGPAF, OPHID reaching out to 95 percent of expectant mothers.
The goal of the programme is to have less than 5 percent of new born babies testing HIV positive.
Minister of Health and Child Care Dr David Parirenyatwa in a speech read on his behalf by his deputy Dr Paul Chimedza stressed that testing is the entry point to accessing ARVs.
“Everyone needs to know his/her HIV status. Knowing your status is the entry point to accessing ARVs if one is in need of medication. One can’t be put on treatment if one is not tested,” he said.
Many people in Zimbabwe do not know their HIV status. Those who have gone for testing have either done so at antenatal clinic, those about to get married, those required to do so when selected for scholarships in countries that demand to know one’s HIV status, many when they have been ill and a few out of the need to be enlightened.
A snap survey at my workplace showed that most of my colleagues were not willing to get tested. The first respondent said he would get tested in case he was seriously ill and had no choice.
The second respondent, a man too, said he was too clean to have been infected and so was his wife.
“I married a virgin, we have a baby aged two who is as fit as a fiddle, so where could I have got the virus, unless it’s now found in the sadza and mazondo that I eat every other day,” he said.
The third colleague said he walked in murky waters and dared not get tested.
Two females said they knew their status because they had been tested at an antenatal clinic.
“I was tested since you see that I am pregnant. It was pregnancy first and the HIV test followed, anyway I am glad that I am HIV negative and hope to remain so,” she said.
The second female said she also got to know of her status in the labour ward.
“I had not taken the HIV test and kept dodging it. However, when I went into labour, I was offered the last chance and told of the benefits which far out- weighed my fear. I took the test.
“I was saved at the last moment. I got a single dose of nevaripine and was informed that had I taken the test earlier, I would have commenced treatment at 14 weeks of pregnancy. The baby was also injected with nevirapine and am glad that so far it has worked,” she said.
The second female said that she has now been commenced on HAART for her own good and that of the baby.
‘I am now on life long ART for my own health and for the health of the baby. I am breastfeeding exclusively and at six months the baby was HIV negative. I am waiting to have the baby tested when I wean him off breast milk at one year,” she said.
“I am sure I will be alive to look after my baby until he is a grown up,” she said.
Married and unmarried parties from my workplace said it was not a priority to know their status.
At Garwe Stadium this year’s theme “Getting to Zero” stressed that it was everyone’s responsibility to achieve zero AIDS-related deaths, zero stigma and discrimination and zero new infections. Banners reading “my responsibility, your responsibility” were paraded by Iyasa dance troupe.
Leornard “Karikoga” Zhakata and the Zimbabwe All Stars, Suluman Chimbetu, Club Shanga and Iyasa provided entertainment.
The guest of honour also planted a tree at the stadium to mark Tree Planting Day which falls on December 1.
Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence stands at 14,7 percent, a decline from 26 percent a decade ago but is still unacceptably high.
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