Preventive AIDS Therapy Offers Hope for Newborns in Zimbabwe

First Baby in Hospital in Harare Is Surviving, So Far

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HARARE, Zimbabwe, MARCH 25, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- Takunda, or «Victory,» is the name of the first baby at St. Albert´s Hospital saved from AIDS by preventive therapy.

«We will be certain that the therapy was successful in November this year,» Dr. Elisabeth Tarira told the Vatican agency Fides. Tarira is medical director at St. Albert´s, which is run by the Association of Women Doctors (AFMM), a Catholic secular institute started in Italy.

«We began therapy for Takunda last May,» the doctor said. «It was his mother who decided her baby would have the therapy and chose his name.»

«The therapy is simple,» she said. «As soon as the mother goes into labor she is given a dose of 200 mg of Nivirapina, an anti-virus drug. Seventy-two hours after the birth, the baby is given 0.6 mg per kilo of the same medicine. However it will be 18 months before we can be certain that the child is out of danger.»

«Although we are not absolutely sure yet that Takunda is safe, things proceed well,» Tarira added. «His growth is normal.»

The AFMM says that an increasing number of HIV-positive mothers are overcoming taboos and prejudices and asking for treatment to prevent the virus from passing to their child.

In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is devastating. There are 27 million HIV-positive people, including 4 million children. Zimbabwe is one of the worst-hit countries with 26% of the adult population — and 40% of pregnant women — HIV-positive. The virus is transmitted to the child during birth or breast- feeding.

It costs relatively little to save a child from AIDS with the new therapy. With 90 euro ($79), a child can be fed on artificial milk from the age of 3 to 12 months; 129 euro ($113) is sufficient for complete medical treatment and feeding.

St. Albert´s hospital was founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1964. It is in the Diocese of Chinhoyi. The AFMM took over in 1983.

Dr. Adele Pignatelli established the AFMM in 1954. Its members are lay consecrated women doctors and nurses dedicated to serving people in Third World countries. A beatification cause is under way for one of its members, Dr. Luisa Guidotti, killed in 1979 in what was then Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe.

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