UNICEF expands its outreach to children affected by HIV in Zimbabwe



By James Elder

GOROMONZI DISTRICT, Zimbabwe, 20 July 2007 – With temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius, Lillian, 13, scoops water from a well. It’s just before six in the morning and she has 90 minutes to get the water back to her hut, collect wood, start a fire, make breakfast for her family and, finally, walk a kilometre to school.

Lillian’s father died in 2004 due to complications from AIDS. Her mother, unable to cope, abandoned the family a few days later.

“My dad started coughing, then he went to the hospital. The doctor said he had TB,” said Lillian. “After my father died, my mother woke up and ran away. When I saw she wasn’t there, I started crying.”

Grandparents burdened with caretaking

After their mother left, Lillian and her siblings joined their six cousins, whose mothers had already died from AIDS-related illnesses. Their 80-year-old grandmother was suddenly left responsible for the care of nine orphaned children.

© UNICEF Zimbabwe/2007/ Crowe
Lillian attends school but faces many challenges; she and her siblings and cousins are in the care of their grandmother.

“My children are all dead,” said the grandmother, Ms. Mwale. “Where can I get money from to care for all these grandchildren? These are hard times, terrible times.”

Unfortunately, Lillian’s life mirrors that of many Zimbabwean girls her age – children being looked after by ailing grandparents. There are at least 1.1 million children (and possibly as many as 1.6 million) who have lost one or both parents to AIDS in the country.

“My granny takes care of us,” said Lillian, her smile defiant. “She loves us too much, she gives us food to eat, she cuts clothes to make blankets. But she tell us, ‘My body is not strong.’”

Support for UNICEF programmes

Six out of every seven Zimbabwean adults who desperately need anti-retroviral drugs to treat HIV infection cannot access them. For children living with HIV, it is even worse – only about 1 in 16 has access to the life-prolonging drugs. Approximately 160,000 children in the country are living with HIV, and many of them have also lost parents to the disease.

As part of The Government of Zimbabwe’s National Plan of Action (NPA) for orphans and vulnerable children, UNICEF is embarking on a massive programme to improve the health, education, protection and nutrition of the country’s orphans and vulnerable children.

In recent years UNICEF has dramatically increased – from 50,000 up to 500,000 children – the reach of its programmes to assist Zimbabwean orphans. This increase in care has occurred thanks to the support of UK Department for International Development and the Governments of Sweden, New Zealand, Germany and Australia.

The support is far-reaching, from increasing school enrolment and birth registration for orphans and vulnerable children to supporting school nutrition programmes as well as improving access to health services and sanitation.

“Families and children such as Lillian are entering a new phase of hardship,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Festo Kavishe. “Their support to one another is stirring indeed; 95 per cent of this country’s orphans continue to live with their extended family. But this must not mask their suffering and the world’s responsibility to address it.”


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