Thursday September 13 2012

US government commits $25 million to fight HIV in children

By Agatha Ayebazibwe

The United States government Wednesday announced it would contribute about Shs61 billion every year to help combat HIV/Aids among children.

The announcement was made by the US ambassador to Uganda Mr Scott DeLis while opening the 6th National paediatric HIV/Aids conference in Kampala.

The sum is in addition to the $320 million that the US government under the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) currently gives to Uganda every year to fight against HIV.

According to Mr DeLis, funding under Pepfar will be used to treat all HIV positive pregnant women as a way of stopping them from transmitting the virus to their babies as well as improve health care in the country.

He said early diagnosis of paediatric HIV has for a long time remained a challenge in Uganda.

“The American government is committed to ensure that no mother infects her own child. And for those who are already infected, appropriate treatment should be made easily accessible,” Mr DeLis said.

It is this funding that will see the roll out of the Option B+, a new treatment regime meant for HIV infected pregnant women, which was launched on Wednesday.

The country representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), Mr Musa Bungudu urged government to invest in health care and stop relying on foreign aid.

“The government of Uganda needs to invest heavily on health and make it a priority rather than leaving it to donors,” he said.

Out of 155,000 children who are currently living with HIV/Aids in Uganda, only 25,000 have access to treatment which the HIV/Aids control program Manager, Ministry of Health Dr. Alex Ario attributed to poor diagnosis of paediatric HIV and lack of skills among health workers.

“Health workers at the lower level lack training on how to handle children with HIV yet most of the sick children in are in those remote villages where the level of health facilities does not offer the services,” he said.

Dr Ario also blamed parents for not taking the responsibility to take their children to health centres that offer paediatric anti-retroviral treatment.

Health experts are optimistic that that once the plan is rolled out countrywide, the number of babies who ge infected will fall drastically.