Is AIDS no longer fashionable?

September 21, 2010

Posted by Gitau Mburu

Senior Advisor, Health Systems and Services, International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Why are leaders ignoring the impact of HIV on mothers and children? Insights from a tropical doctor.

As the Millennium Development Summit gets underway, the absence of HIV on the agenda begs urgent attention. While eradication of poverty, maternal and child health continue to be at the centre of the MDG summit agenda, and rightly so, there is a significant omission: HIV.

Not only does HIV continue to be one of the most important threats to maternal and child health in tropical Africa today, but it continues to be a real threat to development the world over. As a doctor who has been faced with challenges while providing HIV treatment and care to mothers and their children, I reckon that HIV needs to be at the centre of the MDG Summit agenda.

I have seen first hand and there is strong evidence of the impact that HIV has both on maternal and child mortality. HIV is one of the most important contributors to maternal mortality i.e. death of women during or within six months after child birth, especially in poor countries. Not to mention the increasing number of deaths that occur in women of reproductive age outside pregnancy and childbirth who often tend to be ignored in maternal mortality estimates.

HIV has a devastating impact on child mortality. Children born to HIV positive mothers are eight times more likely to die as compared to those born of HIV negative mothers, regardless of their own status. Indeed, HIV is possibly the most important cause of child headed households and orphans in sub Saharan Africa today. Orphans are dying at a higher rate because of their increased vulnerability to health and social risks. Yet this seems to have escaped the attention of the Millennium Summit.

The impact of HIV extends well beyond maternal and child health. It has a tremendous impact on economic development both at household and country level, has been the most important impediment in the battle against Tuberculosis, and continues to aggravate gender differences as it affects women disproportionately. Any discussion on the progress of the Millennium Development Goals must address HIV. Yet the leaders at the MDG summit appeared to have overlooked this fact. AIDS is no longer fashionable enough?

Women and children in developing countries desperately need hope. Hope to overcome the biggest threat to their survival today. And that threat is arguably HIV. As an advocate of my patients, I call upon the leaders at the MDG summit to commit increased aid to HIV treatment and prevention for women and children.

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