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Children with HIV a ‘lost cause’ in rural Zimabwe

Children who may have HIV are being overlooked in cut-off parts of Zimbabwe, because there are no facilities to test them.

Mugarakamwe Clinic in one of Zimbabwe’s poorest districts about 100 miles north of the capital Harare has no public transport. Patients sometimes have to walk 12 miles to get there. It also has no testing equipment and no transport to take sick children to hospital for HIV tests.

It is under staffed, there is no visiting doctor and it doesn’t have the drugs to treat children arriving with HIV-linked complications. The nearest hospital that does have these facilities is 60 miles away.

Sadly, it is not the only countryside clinic in the Southern African country ill-equipped to treat its patients. The situation at Mugarakamwe is typical of most of rural Zimbabwe’s clinics where children are still not getting Aids prevention or treatment drugs.

Government-run clinics in these rural parts don’t have the most basic drugs and clinical supplies such as cleaning agents, surgical gloves, and bandages.

Even though the drugs have become more affordable and available, Zimbabwe’s health care systems to treat children and pregnant women are poor, said a doctor at Guruve Hospital.

"In most rural areas, children with Aids are generally considered a lost cause," the doctor said. "Treatment, to the extent it exists, is limited to adults, for whom antiretroviral therapy is cheaper and easier,” he told Inter Press Service news agency.

Expensive specialist tests are needed to find out whether a child under 18 months is infected, although they can still be treated based on just their symptoms.

"Children are also more complicated to treat, partly because their medication must be constantly adjusted as their height and weight change. And paediatric drugs cost more than adult medication until recently, up to three times as much," the doctor said.

Half of all untreated HIV-positive infants die before the age of two for lack of medication that can seemingly transform their condition overnight, he added.

Zimbabwe has more than 1.3 million Aids orphans, according to the Aids charity, UNAIDS. Between 110,000 and 140,000 children aged between 0 to 14 years are living with HIV − who mostly live in rural areas. And the country does not have enough antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to comply with World Health Organisation recommendations. According to the Zimbabwe National AIDS Council, the number of Zimbabweans who need ARVs has risen to 570,000.

Hayley attribution