Who will suffer from Global Fund withdrawal?

HARARE - At 14 Nyasha has never seen the inside of a classroom. His mother is dead and his grandparents do not see the importance of educating an HIV-positive child.

So he grows up on the streets of Harare and every day to his aged grandparents is a success story of the boys triumph over death. They both think he would have died a long time ago had it not been for his will and the grace of God.

Notwithstanding the fact that the government of Zimbabwe provides antiretroviral (ARVs) to both the young and the old, access by the young to this life-prolonging drug has been very low and, with user fees still in place, many children like Nyasha fail to go to hospital.

It does not mean that we do not care about the welfare of our grandchild but we do not have the money to send him to school. And when he falls ill which he often does we do not have the money to take him to hospital, said his grandfather. UNAIDS, an organ of the United Nations that deals with HIV and AIDS programmes, says that 150 000 children under 14 years of age are living with HIV in a country where 83 000 die annually from AIDS related diseases. Over a million children like Nyasha have been orphaned by the deadly virus.

The number of patients on ARV increased from 99 408 (9 594 of them children) at the end of 2007 to 148 144 (13 278 children) in December 2008 and 218 589 (21 521 children) by end of December 2009, says UNIAIDS. However, there are fears that progress so far made could be reversed after the Global Fund announced it was no longer going to fund the HIV programmes under the Round 10 scheme.

This is indeed a major blow to the country and especially to PLWHA – or is it? Nyasha has never benefited from the government programmes and so he is unlikely to feel the stab of the donors refusal. Joshua Chigodora, a researcher with SAFAIDS, says that the refusal by the Global Fund to fund HIV and AIDS programmes does not have a direct effect on the current efforts to arrest the disease that has killed thousands of Zimbabweans since the late eighties.

The recent refusal of the countrys Global Fund Round 10 proposal does not necessarily affect current HIV and TB programmes because that funding was only expected in 2012, he said. However, the National Aids Council (NAC) Chief Executive, Tapiwa Magure, said without funding (of $170million for round 10) a gap had been created.

There is a gap in giving out treatment, making prevention programmes and looking after the home-based carers. The country needs all resources it can get and failing to get Round 10 widens that gap, said Magure. Presently out of the more than 500 000 people in need of treatment only 300 000 are getting it.

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