YESTERDAY, the world celebrated World AIDS Day under the theme â€˜Universal Access and Human Rightsâ€™. World AIDS Day reminds us that HIV/AIDS has not gone away, and that there is still a lot to be done. Accessibility to anti-retroviral treatment remain
YESTERDAY, the world celebrated World AIDS Day under the theme â€˜Universal Access and Human Rightsâ€™. World AIDS Day reminds us that HIV/AIDS has not gone away, and that there is still a lot to be done. Accessibility to anti-retroviral treatment remains a big challenge, especially in the developing world.
According to UNICEFâ€™s State of the Worldâ€™s Children, two million children under 15 worldwide are living with HIV. UNICEF reports also indicate that approximately 2.3 million children in the world are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS annually.
In Uganda, nearly 30,000 infants are born with HIV every year, according to Dr. Zainab Akol, the AIDS Control Programme manager in the health ministry. This is a challenge to Ugandaâ€™s future generation since children make up the biggest proportion (56%) of our population.
In 2000, the United Nations developed eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to respond to the worldâ€™s main development challenges, including combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
Sensitising people about how to protect themselves from contracting HIV is good, but more needs to be done for those who are already infected. This is why one of the targets of the sixth MDG seeks to â€œachieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.â€ Uganda has made considerable progress towards meeting this goal, though more effort is required. In 2004, the Government started providing free antiretroviral drugs (ARVS) to AIDS patients.
The price of ARVs has also dramatically fallen, making it possible for some people to buy them from private suppliers.
However, access to ARVs remains highly uneven, especially to children and people in rural areas. The majority of Ugandans cannot afford to buy these drugs, even at their relatively low cost.
Furthermore, people living with HIV in the rural communities have to travel long distances to the nearest health centres to get free ARVs. Sometimes, however, their efforts are frustrated due to the shortage of these drugs.
Some non- governmental organisations such as World Vision Uganda have helped children fight HIV/AIDS by providing free transport to health centres and sensitised children on the importance of ARVs, but are faced with challenges of scarcity of drugs.
Therefore, the child-focused organisation in partnership with Faith Based Organisations to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on children, calls on the Government to increase its efforts in meeting the sixth MDG by ensuring availability of ARVs in health centres at all times. This can be done by improving the procurement system right from the National Medical Stores to the health centres.
If treatment was readily available in rural areas, it is likely that people will be far more willing to be tested and to identify themselves as having AIDS.
Health workers too need to encourage expectant mothers to test for HIV and if they are infected, to consider the prevention of mother to child transmission measures that will give their unborn children a chance to be healthy.
Parents, relatives and guardians living with children infected with HIV should take even a bigger initiative to ask their MPs to advocate on such problems in Parliament.
If put in place, the above measures will not only increase the lifespan of children with HIV, but we will be on the way to achieving an HIV-free generation.
The writer is the national director, World Vision Uganda
Two million children living with HIV/AIDS