Maputo — Mozambican President Armando Guebuza on Saturday called for close links between communities, political leaders and health units to eliminate the taboos and preconceptions associated with sexuality and sexually transmitted infections.
Guebuza was speaking at the Matola-Rio administrative post, in the southern district of Boane, at ceremonies marking World AIDS Day.
He argued that overcoming taboos was essential in order to improve the results of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Only through coordinated work would it be possible to achieve a better response, in terms both of counselling and hospital care, and of sharing experiences.
The national survey of HIV prevalence, INSIDA, carried out in 2009 showed that 11.5 per cent of Mozambicans aged between 15 and 49 were HIV-positive.
Since no comparable survey has been undertaken since, these are the latest figures available. They mean that more than 1.4 million Mozambicans are living with the disease.
“Unfortunately, our children are not exempt from contracting the disease”, said Guebuza. Since 2001, when the authorities began to pay particular attention to “vertical transmission” (whereby unborn children are infected in their mother’s wombs) more than 200,000 children have been infected with HIV.
But since there are now 1,063 health units offering services to prevent vertical transmission, Guebuza thought it made no sense that the country is still recording large numbers of children born with HIV.
He noted that the government has increased the number of health units that have the means to prevent vertical transmission from 909 in 2009, to 1,014 in 2010, to 1,063 this year.
“We cannot allow that something as precious as life is lost because of a phenomenon that is socially, morally and culturally controllable”, said Guebuza. “We cannot remain indifferent when the AIDS pandemic threatens social and economic stability, our sovereignty and state security”.
Deaths from AIDS, he continued, carry with them investments made in human capital, they postpone dreams, they plunge families into mourning, and they expose orphaned children to greater vulnerability.
Guebuza pointed out that the Political Declaration made by world leaders at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS in June 2011 set a target of no new HIC infections among children by 2015, while extending the lives of their mothers.
The Mozambican government had thus drawn up a plan to eliminate vertical transmission. Key to this was the offering of anti-retroviral treatment to all pregnant women, in the health units which provide ante-natal care, as soon as they are diagnosed as HIV-positive.
The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day was “Getting to zero” – a reference to the target of ending the infection of children by HIV. Guebuza stressed that it is quite possible to end mother-to-child transmission, with the collective commitment of all. The key target is that by 2015 at least 90 per cent of all eligible pregnant women should be receiving anti-retroviral treatment.
“The greatest challenge facing us is to keep patients in the programme, and reduce the number who drop out”, he said. “This challenge will only be overcome with the involvement of everyone – government, civil society, private business, families, communities and their leaderships”.
Also in the context of the World AIDS Day commemorations, Health Minister Alexandre Manguele gave the sombre news that AIDS has now overtaken malaria to become the leading cause of death among Mozambican adults. He said that about 40 per cent of hospital deaths are caused by HIV/AIDS.
For children, AIDS is now the second most important cause of deaths, responsible for 14 per cent of child deaths.