A Million Babies Born HIV-free 10 years into government program to combat AIDS

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire | July 9, 2013

In honor of the 10th Anniversary of PEPFAR Scripps Howard Newswire reporters recount the journey of EGPAF Foundation Ambassador Tatu Msangi and how PMTCT services allowed her daughter, Faith, to be born HIV-negative. 

WASHINGTON - Tatu Msangi’s little girl is one in a million, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. Msangi  joined Kerry on Tuesday when he announced that a million babies have been born free of HIV, despite having HIV-positive mothers, with the help of a United States government initiative.

The announcement came at a good time, during the 10th anniversary celebration of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. Started under President George W. Bush, the largely bipartisan initiative works to combat AIDS around the world. A large portion of the plan includes treatment to prevent pregnant HIV-positive women from passing the virus along to their unborn children.

Msangi, who is from Tanzania, was one of those women. As of 2009, according to the latest data available from the CIA World Factbook, Tanzania had the 12th-highest rate of AIDS infection, even though it ranks 27th by population.

During her pregnancy test in 2004 she found out she was infected.

“I was given a blood test and discovered I was HIV positive. I was shocked,” she said.

Both Msangi and her baby were given treatment through PEPFAR, and she had a caesarian section, which helps prevent transmission of the virus.

“My daughter, Faith, is here with me today. She is 8 years old, and she is HIV-negative,” she said. Msangi now works as a nurse, counseling other women going through similar situations."

“We saw these orphans robbed of their parents, and who were forced to take on the burden of adulthood at 13, 14, 15 and caring for their younger siblings. We were heartbroken at hearing what these children had been through,” he said.

Kerry said PEPFAR has improved conditions around the world through counseling, treatment and support.

“One million babies like Tatu’s daughter, Faith, can grow up healthy and happy, go to school, realize their dreams, break out of this cycle, maybe even have sons and daughters of their own free from the burden and the fear of HIV,” he said.

Despite the achievement, Kerry said PEPFAR’s work is not yet done.

“We can achieve an AIDS-free generation, and that’s within our grasp now. To get there, we’re going to have to stay active,” he said.

Part of this activity includes $20 million in assistance for six new countries, from a fund announced in July by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Kerry named the  recipients Tuesday: Cambodia, Ghana, Nepal, Senegal, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Reach Caleigh Bourgeois at caleigh.bourgeois@shns.com or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

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