Many children living with HIV and Aids are defaulting on their antiretroviral therapy (ART) due to the stalking hunger worsened by the effects of the El Nino-induced drought, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has reported.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Health experts say strict adherence to ART was key to sustained HIV suppression, reduced risk of drug resistance, improved overall health, quality of life, and survival. Conversely, poor adherence is the major cause of therapeutic failure. Achieving adherence to ART is a critical determinant of the long-term outcome in HIV-infected patients.
However, according to Unicef, among the 2 000 children who reported health problems in the first six months of this year were those who had defaulted on their antiretroviral therapy.
“With the failure of crops, families face the grim choice of spending their little money on food or buying books and paying school fees,” Unicef deputy representative in Zimbabwe, Jane Muita, said. “They will always choose food. But these are hard choices no family should have to make and we worry about the long-term developmental effects that the drought will have on affected children.”
While El Niño devastated crops and decimated livestock in Zimbabwe at the beginning of the year, its toll on children and their well-being is only now beginning to be felt.
Data from the Unicef-supported Child Protection Fund, which tracks welfare and protection needs among poor and vulnerable children, shows a sharp rise in children needing welfare assistance in 2016 compared to 2015.
Among the main findings, 20 000 children needed welfare assistance between January and July 2016 compared to 11 000 in the whole of 2015.
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The biggest rise was in the education category, where 12 000 children reported needing school-related assistance in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2 000 in the whole of 2015.
Unicef said of concern also was an increase in sexual abuse and exploitation, neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and child labour, with 7 000 cases reported in the first half of 2016 alone, compared to 3 000 in 2015. This was because in some areas in the south of the country, parents were migrating to neighbouring countries in search of livelihoods, leaving their children at risk of abuse.
Zimbabwe, along with other countries in southern Africa, is in the throes of a drought that has devastated crops and livestock, dried up sources of livelihoods, including water, and left an estimated 4 million people, including 1,9 million children, in need of assistance. An estimated 90 000 children will require treatment for malnutrition.
So far, out of Unicef’s current funding appeal of $21,8 million for Zimbabwe, $3,1 million has been mobilised.