Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Michel Sidibé, announced in Dakar, Senegal, that too many Africans still cannot access key HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services.
Senegal has one of the lowest adult AIDS rates in sub-Saharan Africa: 1%. Of the 350 000 orphans living in the country, only 8 000 of them have been orphaned by AIDS. Late Canadian medical geographer, Dr. Harold Foster, and others have pointed to the country’s high soil levels of the mineral selenium (which is a critical component of the immune system and whose deficiency is correlated to the worsening of AIDS) as an important variable in Senegal’s fight against AIDS.
Such favourable geography aside, the reduction of mother-to-child-transmission (MTCT) and the protection of children remains a crucial sphere for anti-HIV/AIDS action.
Mr. Sidibé, who was attending the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Management Meeting, warned that while there has been a 10% increase in the number of HIV-positive pregnant women taking the anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) that keep them healthy and prevent the transmission of the HIV virus to their children, less than half of those women needing it can access it.
MTCT is an issue that is absolutely central to improving child health and reducing mortality, as 390 000 children under 15 years old were infected in 2008 alone.
Only earlier this week, reports circulated that the World Health Organization put out a revised directive for the treatment of HIV-positive expecting mothers. Based on the recommendations of 2006 findings, they will now start ARVs in the fourteenth week of pregnancy and will continue until the baby has been weaned. This is expected to increase child survival among HIV-positive mothers greatly.
All over the world, authorities are realizing the importance of preventing paediatric infections and of protecting children and youth already infected with HIV/AIDS. In Asia, China, with the help of UNICEF, has launched its first anti-HIV/AIDS network for young people. And in India, after the brutal murder of Sanjenbam German, an HIV-positive boy, civil society actors are urging the government to enact a framework that protects the rights of children living with HIV. Sadly, HIV-positive children face routine discrimination—no matter what continent they live on.