She dribbles in fashionable style

HARARE - Tsitsi Shungu has admirable skill as she passes the football to her team mates in fashionable style.  

The athletic 14-year-old girl who is currently signed up by a female football side dreams of one day representing her county as a member of the mighty warriors.

The energy she exudes and her zeal for life can mislead one into believing that the talented girl has always enjoyed good health.

“I was not always this energetic, you should have seen me three years ago when I was at the point of death. I fell ill about two years after my father passed away and my mother took me to several doctors for treatment but I never seemed to get well,” she said.

Tsitsi said were it not for the intervention of a family friend who was brave enough to confront her mother about getting her tested for HIV, she could have been another statistic.

“My mother’s friend took us to Harare Hospital where I was tested and later on referred to the children’s clinic where I received treatment.

“I was very lucky because I did not experience any side effects and after that I gained my strength and started playing soccer at school,” a more than upbeat Tsitsi said.

 She is one of the 189 233 children who are living with HIV in Zimbabwe. Sadly, most affected children are not accessing treatment.

This is an unfortunate state as it comes at a time when Zimbabwe is reported to have reached universal goal as far as adult treatment is concerned.

While the adult access to treatment stands at a commendable 95 percent in the country, only 42 percent of the children living with HIV/Aids can access treatment.

Currently, 95 percent of adults have access to antiretroviral treatment (ART).

National Aids Council (Nac) Monitoring and Evaluation director Ammon Mpofu says the country has since adopted a national programme of action which will see access improving from 42 percent to 80 percent.
 
“Our major problem is coverage and early infant diagnosis.

It is difficult to test anti-bodies in children so we have to test the viral load and at the time being this is centralised.

“The tests can only be done at Parirenyatwa and the specimen has to come here.

Our problem is also of human resources and equipment, but we plan to set up sites in Mutare and Bulawayo when the funds become available,” Mpofu said.

Zimbabwe’s proposal to the Global Fund, which rolls out funding for the treatment of HIV/AidsMalaria and Tuberculosis, was recently approved and Nac says some of the funds will be used to scale up paediatric treatment.

The environmental health department had since been roped in to assist in delivering specimen to Parirenyatwa in the interim period.

UNAIDS country coordinator Tatiana Shoumilina says the paediatric access can easily be scaled up through effective community involvement.

 “Involvement of community leaders like the chiefs can approach a team of medical professionals and ask them to come and have a look at the children, look at their mothers and their families.

“Do we do enough to support families to ensure that the child’s health status is known,” she said.

Shoumilina added that: “Children are more delicate and require different regiments.

Some doctors do not feel completely confident that they are doing the right thing. Test, treat initiate support counsel, engage. If the service is far away and people do not come then services should come to people.”

 Mpofu however says government has since started training doctors to conduct tests on children and initiate treatment. Access to paediatric treatment is not a problem for Zimbabwe alone as many other countries within the region and across the world are facing similar problems.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) only 28 percent of the 3,4 million children living with HIV worldwide were accessing treatment.

The organisation says problems with access to paediatric treatment arise from the fact there are no cheap feasible diagnostic tests for children.

The development of simplified drugs for children is also lagging behind as compared to development of adult treatment is also a major hindrance to paediatric access.

UNAIDS states that an estimated half a million children died of AIDS in 2005 with the majority being children in Sub Saharan Africa.

In South Africa, HIV/Aids is believed to be responsible for about 40 percent of the death of children below the age of five.

While the country is said to have exceeded its ART target, paediatric access continues to lag behind.

According to UNICEF, South Africa only had 36 percent of HIV positive children receiving treatment, Mozambique 19 percent, while Namibia and Botswana had 87 and 88 percent receiving treatment,respectively by the end of 2011. - Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor

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