Ireland helps out in battle against HIV

Over 10% of the 30m people in Mozambique have HIV. The Irish Government is funding treatments, reports Sarah Stack

A HIV-infected mother has told how she and her daughter live normal lives on anti-viral drug treatment that the Irish Government is helping to fund across Mozambique.

Thousands of victims across the formerly war-ravaged East African country have seen their lives turned around by the taxpayer-backed medication programme.

As junior minister Joe Costello saw first-hand the work of Irish Aid and the Clinton Foundation, local Felismina Pedro Wmbi Maholela revealed the stigma she and her 10-year-old daughter Madalena suffer from.

The schoolgirl has not been told she has HIV despite being able to read leaflets on the disease and anti-viral medication.

“It’s hard to explain,” her mother said in her native Portuguese through a translator. “We take the tablets at the same time and she asks but I don’t go in to the detail. I just say this is a disease that most people have to teach her about hygiene.

“In the beginning there were some problems, even within my community and neighbourhood,” Felismina said.

The 38-year-old and her daughter were both tested in 2005 when Felismina showed up with tuberculosis at the busy Polana Canico clinic, run by the Clinton Foundation with Irish Government support. Felismina was put on anti-viral drugs but Madalena had to wait another three years.

“There were stigma issues because I was a sick person. But now, with treatment, it has improved. We have normal lives,” Felismina said.

The mother and daughter, living in the community of Boane near the capital, Maputo, are part of the 11.5% of the 30m population with HIV. That figure soars to 28% in major cities.

Through Irish Aid funding, the Government gives €12m towards health services in the region, as well as €1.2m over five years to the Clinton Foundation to tackle Aids and HIV.

Mr Costello described the work as cutting-edge. “The fact that they are able to provide results when a visit is taking place means that treatment can start almost immediately,” he said.

“Around that, it’s possible for them to plan a response for treatment that should be able to reduce enormously the instances of HIV and TB.”

The foundation, set up by Bill Clinton, is piloting portable devices across Africa that can give HIV test result in an hour.

The pioneering machines — described as a laboratory in a small box — will be brought to the most remote parts of Mozambique by bike and canoe, testing and treating communities rarely reached before.

The Polana Canico clinic treats more than 200,000 patients a year, most of whom live nearby in corrugated tin-roof huts in crowded neighbourhoods.

Now Felismina and Madalena take tablets daily and attend the clinic once a month for check-ups.

Lise Ellyin, who heads the foundation, based at the Polana Canico clinic, said it used to take up to nine months for the result of HIV tests on newborn babies to be known.

“If a child is positive and is not put on treatment, there’s a 50% chance it will die by their second birthday,” she said.

An average 11.5% of the Mozambican population has HIV, most commonly transmitted through sex or from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, which is still deemed safer than bottle-feeding with dirty water.

Figures show the number of people receiving anti-viral treatment has peaked at 300,0000, while more then 66,000 women benefited from treatment to prevent transmission from mother to child .

Ireland will donate €37.5m to Mozambique this year — the most given to any developing country — as well as funds to aid agencies based there.

As part of Ireland’s EU presidency, Mr Costello will chair the EU-Southern African Development Community Political Dialogue, where 15 countries in the region will hold talks on the political situation in Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Madagascar.

Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, was destroyed by a civil war in the 1970s and 1980s, with hundreds of thousands of people killed and a collapse of social and economic infrastructure.

Half the population survive on less than half a dollar a day, while the cost of living rises.

Despite huge natural resource potential, it has fallen to 185th out of 187 countries on the human development report, which measures basic areas including life dependency, which has risen to just 50 years of age.


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