HARARE, ZIMBABWE —
Most children living with the HIV virus in Zimbabwe’s rural communities do not access life-saving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) early because new technology that can detect the virus six weeks from birth is only available at hospitals in the cities, preventing the country from attaining its goal of universal access for minors living with the killer virus.
The national co-ordinator of the HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis Unit in the health ministry, Dr. Owen Mugurungi, says the number of children receiving anti-retroviral drugs in the country is still very low, especially when compared to the number of adults accessing treatment.
About 580,000 adults out of at least 690,000 in need of treatment access ARVs while only 42,000 children living with the virus are under treatment.
Mugurungi says the number of children accessing treatment falls far short of numbers needed to achieve universal access to treatment, as it currently stands at only about 42 percent.
Lack of expertise, even where latest machines are available, is making the situation worse in some parts of the country.
Provincial and district hospitals still do not have the new early infant diagnosis technology, which means that rural hospitals must send blood samples to city hospitals for testing.
Unfortunately, Dr. Mugurungi says, samples are sometimes lost in transit. Other times, the transport of samples takes so much time that the samples are invalid by the time they get to the cities.
But even with these challenges, Dr. Mugurungi says, the government is optimistic that the new testing technology will save more children as they are put on treatment early.