Angelique Kidjo calls for rapid scaling up of HIV treatment in Zimbabwe
Every week in Zimbabwe 550 children die of an AIDS-related illness and a further 565 become infected with HIV. And yet nationwide less than 5000 Zimbabwean children are receiving ARV treatment. Zimbabwe - currently facing 1000% inflation and one of the world's highest HIV rates - also suffers the worst rises in child mortality globally.
A day before she headlines the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), Ms Kidjo visited the Harare Children's Hospital to spend her afternoon with some of Zimbabwe's most vulnerable children. There she spoke with the children and their families and paid particular attention to those infected with HIV.
"The stories of these children are both heartbreaking and inspiring," said Ms Kidjo. "They are living in pain, they are often orphaned, and the world seems more interested in their country's politics than these children's plight.
"And yet they retain hope and determination. I don't know if they are Zimbabwe's next musicians or not, but certainly with the drugs their peers in the developing world have access to, they can be the country's next teachers and doctors."
Advocating for their treatment and supporting orphans and vulnerable children is at the heart of UNICEF's work in Zimbabwe. As part of the country's National Plan of Action (NPA) for orphans and vulnerable children, UNICEF is embarking on a massive programme with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to improve the health, education, protection and nutrition of the country's orphans and vulnerable children. However, life-saving drugs remain in desperately short supply.
"The vast majority of Zimbabwe's 115,000 children who are HIV-positive could have been spared this immense burden. They contracted the virus through mother-to-child-transmission," said UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe. "The world has the drugs that prevent this and yet less than 7% of Zimbabwe's HIV-positive pregnant women receive them."
Ms Kidjo - who has been nominated for three Grammys - was an instant hit at the children's ward and took time to sing for the children.
"For me these children are much more than a reminder of how fortunate we are. Their tears and their strength should remind us of our obligation to support them."
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