On the tipping point of a generation free of HIV/Aids

2010-12-04 15:00

Ageneration born free of HIV and Aids is within the world’s ?reach – and Africa is at a
tipping point.

Today, paediatric HIV and Aids is virtually a thing of the past everywhere in the world – everywhere ­except Africa.

Nine out of 10 pregnant women with HIV live in Africa, so do nine out of 10 children living with the virus.

Every day, 1?000 African babies are born with HIV.

The majority will not ­receive treatment. Without it, half will die before their second birthday.

We should all be outraged by this tragic loss of young life – all the more tragic because it is needless.

This is not a question of ­knowledge. In the past 10 years, we have learned a great deal about the miracle – and the mechanics – of ­preventing mother-to-child transmission.

It is a question of priorities and political will.

Some countries are taking action.

Kenya, for example, has set an ­ambitious goal of decreasing paediatric HIV infections from 27% to 8% by 2013.

Last year, its government set aside R79?million to purchase antiretrovirals for pregnant women.

Kenya is also working to bridge ­critical gaps in its programme with new efforts designed to reach the hardest hit and often hardest to reach communities.

We hope other governments soon follow suit.

Achieving a generation free of HIV and Aids is also a global imperative, requiring renewed commitment by donor nations, international ­agencies, civil society and the private sector.

We must all focus greater attention on – and increase investment in – scaling up cost-effective initiatives to ensure that clinics are properly staffed and supplied, so that more women and newborns are tested ­early and receive treatment in time to prevent transmission of HIV.

Further funding is also needed to expand access to quality care, treatment and support for women and children living with HIV.

And we must invest in innovative ways of reaching the poorest and most ­vulnerable women and families.

Last month Kenya became the first country to begin distributing the Mother Baby Pack “take-home ­boxes” which contain all the drugs needed to protect the health of one mother and her infant.

 Soon, ­Cameroon, ­Lesotho and Zambia will also begin distributing these packs.

Clearly, the key to success is ­partnership at every level.

The Global Fund to Fight HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria is providing significant funding to ­expand HIV prevention and treatment efforts in Africa.

Last month, pledges to the fund hit $11.7?billion (R82?billion).

But the funding levels are only enough to sustain ­existing outreach efforts – and Africa cannot afford to wait.

With inadequate ­dedicated funding, fewer than half of the HIV-positive pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa will ­receive life-prolonging antiretrovirals.

Without these medicines, up to 40% of the infants born to these mothers will ­develop HIV.

With them, that rate plummets to 5%.

These numbers speak for themselves.

The choice is ours to make.

It is a matter of priorities. It is a matter of life and death.

» Tutu is the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and honorary chairperson of the ­Global Aids Alliance.

Lake is executive director of the UN Children’s Fund

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