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

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The scale of the problem remains daunting however with the Medical Research Council estimating that some 45,000 children under 15 died due to AIDS in 2006. According to Farai Dube of Johannesburg's Wits Paediatric HIV clinics, the change of attitude from the government is to be welcomed but only goes so far. "No one was concentrating on children. There were very few advocacy groups and very few clinics taking responsibility of putting children on treatment. Only now are people beginning to analyse the children," he said.

But, as Dube pointed out, only 27,000 of the 123,000 HIV-infected children who are considered sick enough to require ARVs actually receive them. Glenda Gray, director of the Johannesburg-based Perinatal HIV Research Unit, said drug firms had not prioritised treatment for children as rates of mother to child transmissions were much lower in the developed world than Africa.

"Paediatric formulations are not a big priority for big pharma. You don't make lots of money from children," Gray told AFP. "It's an ongoing battle, the pressure for paediatric formulations is still required. Sometimes the medicine tastes terrible and you have to get your toddler to drink disgusting medicine." The first person who really opened the world's eyes to the plight of Africa's young AIDS victims was 11-year-old Nkosi Johnson who delivered an electrifying speech at the 2000 international AIDS conference in Durban.

"I hate having AIDS because I get very sick and I get very sad when I think of all the other children and babies that are sick with AIDS," the diminutive youngster told 10,000 delegates from around the world. Nkosi, who was at the time the country's longest-living HIV positive child, died the following year but his legacy persists. His adoptive mother Gail Johnson, whose campaign for young AIDS victims is being turned into a Hollywood movie starring Naomi Watts, said Nkosi would have been thrilled childr
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