AIDS success stories from Mozambique

The Southern Times | May 20, 2013

In this piece from The Southern Times, the reporter details recent successes in the battle against HIV in Mozambique, including EGPAF-supported mobile health centers for people living with HIV and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) efforts.

Sitting a outside her reed and mud hut and fondly clutching her eight-month-old baby, Maria da Gloria narrates to The Southern Times how she once fell very ill and on reaching the nearest hospital was given some very shocking news.

The native of Mozambique’s flagship tourism district of Bilene tested positive for HIV and was also diagnosed with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
“When I returned home from the consultation, I spent a lot of time thinking. I felt sorry for myself and I began to think that my life was over. But then I had an idea. I decided to accept my HIV status and follow the advice of the nurse who counseled me.

“From then on, I did not miss any visits to the health centre. I took the pills that they gave me and that helped me prevent passing HIV to my child.
“I participated in support groups with other HIV-positive mothers.

“When my son Frechou was born, I gave him medication every day. I also exclusively breastfed him for six months, following the advice of the nurses.

“When I was preparing to wean my son, I revealed my HIV status to my husband who chased me away from our matrimonial home and he remarried,” Maria da Gloria says.

Throughout most of the narration, she sobs but still radiates hope.

“It was very helpful to participate in the support group meetings and other activities at the health centre, which are supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

“I learned many things, like how to live positively with HIV and how to take care of my child. I control my disease by regularly taking my anti- retroviral medication, and I help counsel others who do not want to accept their HIV status.

“Thanks to the support we received, my son is HIV-negative and his status was confirmed with his final negative test when he was 24-months-old.
“If not for the support of the Foundation and the health centre, providing me with medication and counseling during and after my pregnancy, my son and I would not be healthy today," she says.

Mozambique’s high HIV infection rate has stretched the government’s capacity to provide basic medical services, including crucial pre-natal care.

The government says a shortage of qualified staff and a depleted health infrastructure dents its efforts to combat AIDS and other disease.

Very few of those needing anti-retroviral drugs have access to the life-saving treatment, though there are plans to set up a factory to produce the drugs in Mozambique.

That will come as a huge relief to people like Maria da Gloria, who is among 59 000 people who currently rely on state assistance and donations from the US’ President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

PEPFAR recently announced an extension of U$260 million to Mozambique to combat the HIV and AIDS pandemic, with a view to providing ART to 80 percent of the country’s 1.6 million HIV-infected citizens. (The country’s total population is 18 million.)

US Ambassador to Mozambique, Douglas Griffiths, said the money would increase the number of Mozambicans receiving ART to 69 000.
Most ARVs are being imported from India, which was a pioneer in manufacturing generic ARVs that cost far less than those coming from Europe and America.
Brazil’s Former President, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, first made an offer to help Mozambique to build its own manufacturing plants when he visited the country back in 2004.

Only now has the government started seriously looking at the feasibility of such an option.

Apart from making it easier to ensure all those who need ARVs have access to them, such a plant would see Mozambique exporting drugs to its neighbouring countries and perhaps even further across the continent.

Brazil says manufacturing its own ARVs has cut its AIDS mortality rate by half.

A Brazilian pharmaceutical firm has been roped in to provide ARVs as well as drugs to treat malaria and other diseases.

This company will monitor quality and transfer technology to Mozambique as the country seeks to produce its own generic drugs.

The Brazilians and Mozambican government will work with the not-for-profit Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics Aids Foundation (EGPAF).

EGPAF is rolling out mobile clinics and has already provided three such facilities this past month in Bilene, Manjacaze and Chibuto districts.

The clinics have all the equipment needed to provide comprehensive testing and treatment for HIV.

The clinics also provide pre-natal care, prevention of vertical transmission of HIV, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, and family planning services.

The MD of EGPAF, Fernando Morales, told this newspaper that: “We want to prove that this initiative is viable and it can really work. Our target is to reach at least 80 percent of people who need anti-retroviral therapy and cut mother-to-child HIV infections by at least 90 percent by 2015.

“There are many people who cannot walk long distances in rural areas for medical care resulting in the bulk of them abandoning HIV treatment. So mobile clinics will go where they are and they will be encouraged to carry on.

We will also be able to reach those who are still not aware of their status.”