Friday, September 08, 2006

Zambian children and HIV

Zambia has a population of about 11 million people. More than one million of Zambians are living with HIV. Estimates put the prevelance rate at around 20%. 290 000 Zambians are in need of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and this is the official figure that only takes account of those who know their status. As at March 2006, an estimated 76000 people were on ART in Zambia.

That 76000 Zambians are currently on ARV treatment as of now is not a mean achievement at all one when considers the circumstances. In fact it is quite a phenomenal feat. Especially when we consider that less than three years ago in 2003, during the pilot phase of ART in the Zambian public health sector, there were only 2,000 people on treatment in two centres at Lusaka’s UTH and Ndola Central Hospital. In the second phase in 2004, 10 centres with 15,000 people on treatment. By the end of 2005, it had expanded to over 50,000 people in 62 centres. By now, at the end of August 2006, there are 126 centres and 76,000 people on ART, the vast majority of who are receiving this treatment for free.

(It is sometimes argued that this treatment is not entirely free to the patient as they incur costs in traveling to the clinics to access it. The point is that the patients themselves do no have to pay any of the nearly US $150 per patient per year that it costs to have a person on first line ARVs alone, without even considering the costs of all the laboratory costs that go with the practice of HIV medicine.)

While credit, commendation and praise must be given where they are due because as a country Zambia has made very good progress in this area, we must also acknowledge that Zambia has failed her children. Experts tell us that there are about 85000 children infected with HIV in Zambia, but only less than 3000 of them are on ARV treatment.

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