Greater focus urged on protection of children from HIV

About 90 percent of pregnant Zimbabwean women have no access to treatment to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child, said Public Services, Labour and Social Welfare minister, Nicholas Goche.

Goche was speaking in the capital, Harare, during the regional launch of a global campaign to spur action for the millions of children affected by HIV/AIDS.

"The impact of the pandemic challenges us to provide child care differently, and to be able to provide primary prevention, protection of children from mother-to-child transmission, and to care and support children affected by HIV," he noted.

As a growing number of children lose their parents to AIDS, traditional family safety nets have been overwhelmed and their care has largely fallen to grandparents. The government estimates that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has orphaned over one million children.

Zimbabwe is also faced with an increasing number of children living with HIV/AIDS - an estimated 100 babies become HIV positive every day. Dr Tapuwa Magure, director of the National AIDS Council, revealed that Zimbabwe has an estimated 165,000 HIV-positive children.

Magure said his organisation was working with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to ensure that antiretroviral (ARV) drugs were available to children, despite the current shortage of foreign currency to import drugs.

UNICEF's head of communication, James Elder, called for massive funding to cater for the needs of children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS.

According to UNAIDS, there is a funding gap of at least US $18 billion, and more resources should be allocated to programmes for children affected by the pandemic.