ZIMBABWE’S First Lady, Amai Auxilia Mnangagwa today launched the Free to Shine Campaign, an HIV and AIDS program meant to reduce HIV and AIDS in children and adolescents, as a follow-up to the commitment made by African first ladies early this year.
By Michael Gwarisa
The initiative targets to end HIV/AIDS in children by the year 2030 following indications that HIV prevalence in Children was still high in children owing to high cases of vertical transmission among a host of other factors with latest statistics indicating that 1.4 million children are living with HIV in Africa South of the Sahara.
Launching the program at the ongoing edition of the Harare Agricultural Show, Amai Mnagnagwa said she was committed to working towards ensuring children living with HIV do not develop AIDS.
“It was on 29 January 2018 that African First ladies gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to champion free to shine, a campaign spearheaded by the organisation of African First ladies and the African Union to end childhood AIDS in Africa by 2030 and ensuring the good health of mothers.
“It was wide expected that I would come back home and launch the Zimbabwe chapter of the Free to Child campaign in actively working to end AIDS in children and keep the mother and child healthy. I am indeed committed to this cause and will work tirelessly to support the Ministry of Health in pursuit of the HIV free generation and access to treatment for children and adolescents living with HIV to keep them AIDS free,” said Amai Mnangagwa.
She added that the high prevalence in HIV in children was unacceptable and government should move in curb the anomaly.
“Government is committed to eliminating new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers healthy. I.4 million children are living with HIV in Africa South of the Sahara and this is over 50 percent of all children living with HIV globally.
“Every year, 150 000 children are newly infected with HIV globally, this is social injustice among children as new HIV infections among children are entirely preventable through provision of Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) to HIV positive pregnant and lactating women and safe delivery and feeding practices.”
She also said that in 2017, only 52 percent of the world’s population of children living with HIV were put on ART against a target of 95 percent.
“This is worrisome and places a burden on us to do more for children and adolescents living with HIV. It is sad that if no ART is given to children born HIV positive, 30 percent will die in the first five years of life and 50 percent will not live through their second birthday.
“What can I do to alleviate such by suffering innocent children, I commit as first lady of Zimbabwe to make myself available for high level advocacy at national, regional and international level. It is important that we address the issues of domestic resources to fight HIV in Zimbabwe,” she said.
Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) National Prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTC) and Paediatric HIV care and treatment coordinator, Dr Angela Mushavi said Zimbabwe still has a high burden of HIV and there was need for political will to end pediatric and adolescents HIV.
“Our prevalence is now at 13.7 percent at the same time we have 1.3 million people living with HIV. In that number we include children, we include adolescents and we include mothers who need services for the prevention of mother to child transmission.
“We also note that HIV infections among adolescents is increasing and also the AIDS mortality in that age groups is also increasing. And therefore adolescents and young women become key areas of focus. For almost two decades now, Zimbabwe has been implementing HIV treatment and care programs at the moment we have more that 1.1 million people living with HIV on ART,” she said.
She added that the Free to shine campaign was targeted at early childhood AIDS and that Zimbabwe’s mother to child transmission has reduced significantly. However she said there is need to have a mother to child transmission reduced to less than five percent.