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TANZANIA: New centres to boost paediatric HIV care

DAR ES SALAAM, 15 March 2011 (IRIN) - Maria Pelula has looked after two HIV-positive orphans in the past and is now bringing up 12-year-old Adrian*, the orphaned son of a relative, in Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. But she still does not know how to tackle the sensitive subject of testing Adrian for HIV.

"Adrian is aware that both his parents died after a long illness; nobody has ever told him openly that his father and mother died of HIV/AIDS," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "We are waiting for him to fall sick and we will secretly ask a doctor attending him to check his HIV status and let us know."

Just 15 percent of all prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission facilities in Tanzania are able to conduct early infant diagnosis; poorly trained health workers and inadequate infrastructure mean general hospitals are ill-equipped to handle routine identification, testing and treatment of HIV-infected children.

The Tanzanian government is now stepping up its efforts to effectively handle paediatric healthcare, opening two specialized paediatric HIV clinics - one in the southwestern region of Mbeya and another in the Lake Victoria port city of Mwanza.

"It is estimated that there are between 140,000 and 160,000 children in Tanzania living with HIV/AIDS, but only 8 percent of them are currently receiving ARVs [life-prolonging antiretrovirals]," said Mohammed Bilal, Tanzania's Vice-President, at the recent opening of the Mbeya centre. "In collaboration with several local and foreign partners, we in the government are now stepping up efforts to support children infected with HIV."

Mbeya, on a major route for truckers coming from southern Africa, has one of the highest HIV prevalence levels in the country, at about 9.2 percent, well above the national average of 5.6 percent, according to a government survey conducted in 2008.

The centres are operated with the Baylor International Paediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children's Hospital, the Abbott Fund, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and the US Agency for International Development.

Ayoub Magimba, executive director of Baylor Tanzania, said most HIV/AIDS campaigns such as voluntary male circumcision, safe sex and abstinence, focused on adults or special groups, including commercial sex workers and truck drivers, and there was a need for child-focused HIV programming.

"Our attention is children and the main theme in our campaign is: 'Know your child's HIV status'," he said, adding that the campaign focused largely on HIV-positive parents.

Magimba noted that through the new clinics, children would receive the psychosocial counselling they needed as well as high-quality healthcare.

"Children are made to understand that they can lead a normal life, go to school, to university and at a later stage have their own children who are HIV-free," Magimba said.

Baylor also offers training to healthcare providers and medical equipment.

By 2013, the Mbeya and Mwanza centres are expected to care for at least 10,000 HIV-infected and affected children and their families.

*Not his real name

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Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Children, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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