By MIRIAM ZIMBA –
THE United States through its President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has set aside US $210 million for the Accelerated Children’s HIV/AIDS Treatment (ACT) for children living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking from Washington D.C. via a telephone conference call with African journalists from the Sub-Saharan Region, PEPFAR Ambassador Deborah Birx said an additional 300,000 children will be helped over the next two years through that investment.
Ambassador Birx said PEPFAR has created expanded partnerships with the private sector for the innovation of new ideas to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
She said out of the approximated 3.2 million children across the globe living with HIV, only a quarter of them have access to treatment.
“And it was that data that was very compelling to us to really work with countries to accelerate access to treatment by young children.”
“Much of this has to do with finding their mothers while they are pregnant, ensuring the mothers receive life-saving treatment, but also to ensure that when we are not successful in finding the mother, that the children are diagnosed early,” she said.
She said according to data obtained from the Gap Report, it has been established that about half of the children living with HIV die before the age of two years if they don’t access treatment early.
“One of the purposes of this programme is not only to treat children, but to find their mothers to ensure the mothers have life-saving treatment, to find the positive young children, and to get them on treatment.”
“The other thing that is in the Gap Report is it shows that the adolescents, particularly adolescent young women, are also particularly susceptible to dying from HIV/AIDS because of their lack of access to treatment. And so this has also been an important piece for us, because among adolescents, 10 to 19, AIDS-related deaths are the primary cause of death in that age group,” Ambassador Birx added.
She explained that the ACT initiative is aimed at is committed to doubling the number of children who are receiving life-saving ART and life-saving treatment.
“It is a 200 million dollar initiative, and we believe we will be able to reach nearly 300 thousand additional children. The countries that we will be working with are Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe,” she said.
This is a partnership between PEPFAR, the Nike Foundation, and the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, 210 million dollars specifically targeted, and these are new funds, specifically targeted to reduce new infections among adolescent girls and young women.
Statistics indicate that nearly seven thousand young women are infected every week, between the age group of 15 and 24, and that is nearly 400,000 adolescent girls and young women, every single year.
About 80 per cent of these new infections occur in girls, and that boys of the same age group do not have the same exposure and risk to HIV as young girls.
“So this program is very much focused on ensuring that young women have the ability to remain, and have the skill sets to remain, HIV free,” Ambassador Birx said.
Since its inception in 2004, PEPFAR Zambia has received over 1.7 billion U.S. dollars.
She said through the partnerships PEPFAR has made tremendous progress by utilizing national strategies, and utilizing and improving information and data, and using those to respond to this epidemic.
She explained that about 3,600 children die on a weekly basis, with about 25,000 adults dying of HIV related infection.
“While we have been going around our daily business 4,600 new babies were infected, and 36,000 adults were infected, 7,000 of them young women, just this week.”
“So we have to stem this epidemic now before these numbers increase to a level where we don’t have the fiscal resources globally to make the impact that we know we need to make,” she said.