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UN: African Youngsters Left To Die From HIV/AIDS

UN Envoy Battling Aids In Africa Finds No Arv Treatment For Infected Children

Although 2.2 million children are living with AIDS, at least two-thirds of them in Africa, anti-retroviral formulations for children are not available and the youngsters are just being left to die, a United Nations special envoy battling HIV/AIDS on the continent said today.

"In the instance of anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy, the scenario for children is quite simply, doomsday," Stephen Lewis, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told a news conference. "Incredibly enough, we don't even have paediatric formulations. When treatment takes place - a rarity among rarities - doctors and nurses fumble over breaking capsules into several pieces to estimate the dosage for a child, or scramble around to find a syrup solution. It's bizarre."

The apparatus of treatment has been assembled as though children don't exist, he said in reporting on his most recent trips to Malawi and Tanzania.

While waiting, the UN World Health Organization (<"">WHO) has tested a drug called co-trimoxazole in Zambia and recommended giving it to infected children.

Meanwhile, grandmothers across the continent are taking care of orphans without gratitude from their societies and stand as "the ultimate and final expression of gender inequality," Mr. Lewis said.

A meeting in Malawi at the end of October confirmed for him yet again that "grandmothers are emerging as the heroes of the African continent," he said. "No one gives them their due; few acknowledge that society and its children could not exist without them; no special provision is made for their food, or clothing or shelter, or health care or emotional needs."

In the southern African country the adult HIV prevalence is 14.2 per cent and the Government is making a great effort - derided by foreign diplomats - to treat 80,000 people by the end of this year out of the 170,000 people waiting for treatment, Mr. Lewis said.

One drawback has been the lack of trained health care workers, partly caused by their leaving mainly for the United Kingdom. As a short-term measure, the British Department for International Development (DFID) was going to raise the salaries of local healthcare workers by 50 per cent to reduce migration, he said.

When he visited Tanzania last month, the Government, facing an adult prevalence rate of 8.8 per cent, had taken some strikingly intelligent steps, he said.

It was giving free treatment with generic fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) twice a day for first-line interventions and allowing the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to provide free drugs for second-line interventions, as well as for paediatric care, Mr. Lewis said.

The country was buffeted by external developments, however. The PEPFAR drugs were not in the country, Tanzania was affected by WHO's de-listing of certain generic drugs last year and the packs of "starter drugs" for use in the first 15 days were not available at the start of the programme last October, he said.

Nonetheless, one of Tanzania's strengths was the phenomenal organization for preventing the spread of HIV at the district and village levels, he said.

In a related development, a visiting group of experts, including representatives of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Bank, commended Kenya yesterday on reducing its prevalence rate last year to 7 per cent, down from 13.5 in 1997.

The group called on the Government to improve coordination of its own efforts with those of civil society and donors by strengthening the National AIDS Control Council.

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