Janet Dube knows the pain of raising a child born with HIV.Her four-year-old son is one of an estimated 170,000 children living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, and figures released by the country’s statistics agency on Wednesday showed the virus is the leading cause of death among children under five.
A Census Analysis Mortality Report from 1992-2012 revealed that despite progress in fighting the virus, HIV and AIDS had claimed the lives of thousands of Zimbabwean children under five.
“I live in constant fear about my child’s health as he sometimes skips medication when we fail to travel to the city (Bulawayo) to get (medication),” Dube, 27, from Filabusi, about 100km (60 miles) from Bulawayo, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Dube, however, is one of the lucky HIV patients who gets free antiretroviral therapy (ART) from a government hospital, though she sometimes goes without medication for herself and her son when she does not have the bus fare to travel to Bulawayo.
When her son goes without medication, it increases her concern about whether he will live long enough to go to school.
About 17 percent of Zimbabwean adults, more than 1.4 million, live with HIV and AIDS, according to UNAIDS figures, making the southern African nation one of five African countries where around 20 percent of adults have HIV or AIDS.
According to the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV’s (ZNNP+) executive director, Muchanyara Mukamuri, only 40 percent of children in Zimbabwe who need it are receiving antiretroviral therapy.
Dube said a lack of adequate nutrition adds to her concern about her and her son’s health as Zimbabwe’s rural areas are facing acute food shortages.
“We just don’t have enough to eat,” said Dube, a single mother who receives monthly food assistance from a Bulawayo church.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Zimbabwe residentrepresentative, Cheikh Tidiane Cisse, said that while the number of children dying before the age of five had fallen in the past three decades, more still needed to be done in the HIV/AIDS sector.
“Access to antiretroviral therapy and antenatal care must be increased,” Cisse said.
Zimbabwe’s long-running economic crisis has not spared the health sector, and there have been large cuts in public health spending.
Last month, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa allocated $301 million to the health and child welfare ministry, but public health campaigners and experts said domestic funding for HIV and AIDS remained inadequate.
In September, the United States approved funding of $95 million under the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), which is also expected to increase the supply of antiretroviral therapy for children.
As for Dube, she can only hope.
“Each day I blame myself (for her son’s condition), I wish one day they get a cure (for HIV),” she said.