By Joe DeCapua
01 December 2008
HIV, the AIDS virus, not only infects adults, but also affects many children. Millions have become orphans, and many are infected at birth.
One of the organizations dealing with pediatric AIDS is the Elizabeth Glaser Foundation. Dr. Denis Tindyebwa is the foundation's regional director of pediatric care and treatment. From Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, he spoke to VOA English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.
"There are more than two million children living with HIV/AIDS globally and over 90 percent of those children live in Africa and specifically sub-Saharan Africa. Those children really are not getting the treatment that they should be getting. Only about 20 percent of the children are getting the life saving anti-retroviral drugs. But the issue is that these children in actual fact should not be getting HIV in the first place. And yet, every day, approximately 1,000 children become newly infected with HIV, the majority of them through mother-to-child transmission, and the majority of them, over 90 percent of them, in Africa," he says.
Dr. Tindyebwa says the drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus are available, but are still not reaching many pregnant women who need them. Weaknesses in the health system are the first problem. "The mothers live far away from the health facilities. And the second reason is that there are not an adequate number of health workers to provide these services to the mothers," he says.
For those children born with HIV because their mothers did not receive the preventive medication, he says, "There are efforts to provide treatment to them. There are drugs that are available, although not as well as they should be. Unfortunately, many drugs are usually tested in adults and then they are given to children and some of them might not be good for children. But even the ones that are good for children are not readily available to Africa. But even if they are readily available, they would not have the clean water to mix the suspensions. We do not have refrigerators to keep the solutions (cool)."
He says that what's need are simple to use tablets that combine several medications in one pill.
Dr. Tindyebwa warns that the younger generation is not as afraid of HIV/AIDS as their parents or grandparents were. He says that the African culture has changed because of Western influences, leading a person to have unsafe sex with multiple partners. He also blames poverty as a driving force of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.