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Zimbabwe: Thousands of HIV-Positive Teens Dying Unnecessarily

February 25, 2014

This article was reported by New Zimbabwe.

New Zimbabwe reported that a Zimbabwe-based HIV and AIDS expert recommended universal testing for children in high-prevalence countries to prevent unnecessary suffering and death. Rashida Ferrand, a specialist in pediatric HIV/AIDS from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, conducted research at two public hospitals in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare in 2010. She found that HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of hospitalization and “in-hospital” death among teenagers, and 80 percent of older HIV-positive children were undiagnosed. The United Nations (UN) estimated that 1.7 million HIV-positive African children were 10–18 years old. In 2012, 97,000 adolescents ages 10–19 died from AIDS-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN estimated that 15 million African children had lost a parent to AIDS. Extended families often lacked the time and money to care for HIV-positive orphans, and missed testing opportunities were a “huge issue,” according to Ferrand. While approximately 50 percent of untreated HIV-positive children died before the age of two, approximately one-third lived to age 16. Ferrand’s research indicated that almost half (46 percent) of adolescents admitted to the Harare hospitals had HIV, mostly acquired at birth. Approximately 70 percent had opportunistic infections such as pneumonia or TB.

Ferrand stated that only 34 percent of HIV-positive children under age 15 received antiretroviral therapy (ART), approximately half of the percentage of HIV-positive adults on ART. Although recent initiatives to reduce mother-to-child transmission have decreased HIV rates, only 40 percent of infants born in 2012 had HIV testing within the first two months after birth. Another barrier for children was the issue of obtaining consent for HIV testing when parents were working in another country. Although providers offered HIV testing to 76 percent of children visiting a health clinic, only 30 percent could obtain parental consent for HIV testing.

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