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AIDS No Longer a Death Sentence for South Africa's Children

Abandoned in a bar as a baby and given just weeks to live by doctors seven years later, Tommy Jarvis is living proof AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence for youngsters in South Africa . Tommy, now a strapping 13-year-old who spends his spare time riding his bike and practicing karate, makes light of the day that medics gave up on him. "They said I would be dead in three weeks but look at me now," says the still slightly incredulous teenager who now wants to serve as an inspiration to youngsters with a similar story.

Thea Jarvis, who adopted Tommy after his birth mother abandoned him in a township drinking hole when he was one-year-old, recalls how the family became aware of his HIV-positive status when he later contracted pneumonia. Although AIDS-fighting anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) had come on the market, they were prohibitively expensive and she was faced with a dreadful dilemma.

"I had four children who were HIV positive and couldn't afford to put them all on ARVs," Jarvis told AFP at her sprawling family home on the outskirts of Johannesburg where she and an army of assistants care for more than 70 abandoned babies. It was not until Tommy, then aged eight, was "on his deathbed" that she managed to scrape together the money to put him and the other children on a course of ARVs which have given them all a new lease of life.

Tommy was one of the stars of the show at last week's national AIDS conference in Durban where he addressed delegates about his life and how he hopes to help others replicate his stirring story. "I want to look after albino babies that can't be looked after by their mums and dads," he said alongside his visibly proud adoptive mother. The arrival on the market of more affordable ARVs has helped reduce the mortality rate among HIV-positive youngsters as has a shift in government priorities, with the recent five-year AIDS programme specifically pledging to address the plight of vulnerable childr
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