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A mother grieves for three children who could have been saved from HIV/AIDS

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2006/Singizi
Zvanyadza Njanji lost three children before she discovered she was HIV positive.

By Tsitsi Singiz

MABYUKU, Zimbabwe, 27 February 2006 – Three years ago Zvanyadza Njanji met her second husband. They stayed in Harare’s struggling township of Mabvuku, home to some of Zimbabwe’s poorest citizens. Widowed 18 months earlier and with a young family, Zvanyadza was teetering on the edge of destitution when she re-married.

With the promise of a new life, a new husband and a father to her children, Zvanyadza knew she was expected to give birth to healthy babies. But tragedy struck when her youngest child from her first marriage died. In the same year she buried her baby from her second marriage and in 2005 a third child died.

“I lost three children,” she says, holding back tears. “Something was dreadfully wrong and I didn’t know what it was. I was depressed and became very sick, everything fell apart and my husband abandoned me.”

Unknowingly, Zvanyadza had passed on HIV to her three children through what experts call mother-to-child transmission. “What hurts me the most is that all my babies were delivered at a proper clinic but not once was I told that I was HIV positive. I had no counselling on breastfeeding practices that could minimize transmission. Now I know I could have saved my babies and that hurts the most!”

Zvanyadza’s story echoes the lives of countless of women across Zimbabwe. Their lack of information about their HIV status threatens to reverse the country’s improvement in child survival rates.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest rises in child mortality in the world. An estimated 100 babies are infected with HIV every day through mother-to-child transmission. That’s one every 15minutes.

“It is intolerable that babies continue to be infected with HIV at these horrendous rates when services which prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV are widely available across the globe,” says UNICEF Representative to Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe.

UNICEF, in partnership with the government supports the national Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Rollout Programme which includes training health workers in counselling and rapid HIV Testing. UNICEF also helps train carers to provide guidance on appropriate infant feeding practices.

However, due to a critical shortage of funds there remain few comprehensive PMTCT sites, not enough people to provide services and limited community support.

“The infrastructure for a successful programme is there, and UNICEF has the technical knowledge to help tens of thousands of Zimbabwean women and their unborn children, but adequate resources remain a major challenge,” says Dr Kavishe.

“UNICEF believes that both the government of Zimbabwe and the international community must work on resolving this desperate situation. There is no excuse for letting the children of this country suffer so dramatically without working harder to find solutions for helping them.”

On October 25, 2005, UNICEF, UNAIDS and other partners launched a global campaign focusing on the enormous impact of HIV/AIDS on children, saying it was a disgrace that fewer than 5 per cent of HIV-positive children receive treatment and that millions of children who have lost parents to the disease go without support.

UNICEF said that children affected by the disease are the “missing face” of AIDS – missing not only from global and national policy discussions on HIV/AIDS, but also lacking access to even the most basic care and prevention services. Millions of children are missing parents, siblings, schooling, health care, basic protection and many of the other fundamentals of childhood because of the toll the disease is taking, the two UN institutions said.

Launched at the United Nations in New York, the global campaign is entitled UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS.  Follow developments in the campaign at www.unicef.org/uniteforchildren.



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