In a sign of hope on aA continent ravaged by AIDS, a South African fertility clinic has started a service allowing couples infected with the virus to have a healthy baby.
The Cape Fertility Clinic is the first in Africa to open a laboratory for HIV-positive patients, enabling them to conceive and give birth to HIV-negative babies by using procedures such as in vitro fertilization.
“HIV is no longer seen as a death sentence but a chronic disease,” said Klaus Wiswedel, one of the clinic’s directors. “And people with chronic diseases are entitled to have fertility treatment. We can safely deliver an HIV negative child and, with the right treatment, the parent can live a long life.”
About five or six couples, with either one or both partners carrying the AIDS virus, visit the clinic every month.
It is only for the favored few with enough money to pay for fertility treatment and is a drop in the ocean compared to the huge numbers of infected people.
But it is a small symbol that, after years of despair, Africa is making progress in protecting unborn child from AIDS — and in prolonging the life of the parents.
About 2 million people are receiving lifesaving antiretroviral medicines in Africa, which bears the brunt of the AIDS epidemic, up from 100,000 in 2003.
This has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of pregnant women receiving drugs to stop them from passing the HIV virus to their children. A UN report on children and AIDS published for World AIDS Day said the number of pregnant women getting therapy in low and middle income countries had tripled in the past three years.
For some countries the gains have been even more striking, thanks to an increase in donor interest and funding.
In dirt-poor Malawi and Lesotho, less than 5 percent of pregnant women infected with the AIDS virus received drugs to protect their unborn babies in 2003.
This increased to 32 percent last year, said the report, which was prepared by UNICEF, WHO, UNAIDS and the UN Population Fund.
In Mozambique the proportion of pregnant women on therapy increased from 3 percent to 46 percent; in Uganda from 9 percent to 34 percent; in Swaziland from 5 percent to 67 percent; in Zambia 18 percent to 47 percent and in South Africa from 15 percent to 67 percent, the report says.
Even Zimbabwe managed an increase from 8 percent to 29 percent.
In Botswana, which has one of the highest AIDS rates in the world but has enough resources and commitment to provide treatment, 95 percent of HIV positive pregnant women were given antiretroviral drugs to protect their children last year.
Meanwhile, the South African government asked the nation to halt work for 15 minutes yesterday for a period of silence to observe World AIDS Day and to consider ways of reining in the epidemic.
Shortly before the moment of silence begins, Health Minister Barbara Hogan will address the nation, with UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot at an event in the port city of Durban.