'Children neglected in fight against HIV'

HARARE - While government has slashed the number of Aids-related deaths chiefly due to increased access to antiretroviral drugs, children are failing to get the attention they deserve, a government official has said .

David Parirenyatwa, Health and Child Care minister, said it was important to prioritise the treatment of children living with HIV if the country was to overcome the pandemic.

“They are a priority. We are saying we made a mistake of concentrating on adults, leaving out children, but now treatment for children is quite

accessible,” the minister said on the sidelines of a donation of equipment to the paediatric ward at Harare Central Hospital yesterday.

There are an estimated 170 000 children living with HIV in Zimbabwe, according to the National Aids Council.

Parirenyatwa said a wide gap triggered by the new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines has neutralised improvements made towards achieving universal coverage for children.

“We still have a gap though because we have changed the cut-off of people who should access anti-retroviral treatment. This is an area we need to put a lot of effort into,” he said.

The new guidelines, unveiled earlier last year, recommend initiation of treatment at CD4 levels of 500 for adults as well as immediate ART initiation for children below five years of age.

Around 40 to 45 percent of HIV-positive children are currently accessing treatment, according to Parirenyatwa’s deputy, Paul Chimedza.

Angela Mushavi, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) national coordinator, said recently 75 percent of HIV-positive children were born to mothers whose CD4 count was below 350 while the rest are a result of mothers who would have shunned anti-retroviral therapy.


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