Saving The Young

Four years ago, Refilwe sat in a hospital room watching over her tiny AIDS-wasted baby daughter and prepared for the end.

"That Christmas Day I was looking at her and thinking: Tomorrow, God will be taking care of my baby," she said.

Now, Jennifer is a lively, inquisitive little girl, clambering onto her doctor's examination table to try on his rubber gloves.

Real stories such as Jennifer's are being pointed to as the United Nations on December 1 marks World AIDS Day - the day for raising awareness about the disease - with a campaign to fight the disease in children.

An estimated 2.2 million children globally are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the United Nations.

Anti-retroviral medicines can give AIDS' youngest sufferers a chance to grow up healthy, but doctors and activists say most are being left behind in the drive to ramp up treatment on the world's most infected continent.

Anti-retroviral therapy has allowed many of those infected in wealthy nations to reach adulthood and in some cases start families of their own. But treatment remains out of reach for the overwhelming majority in sub-Saharan Africa - home to more than 85 percent of all children under 15 living with the disease.

David Gertner, policy Director for the Global AIDS Alliance tells CBS News hope for those victims can come only from a generous and attentive First World.

"We're more than two decades into this pandemic," Gartner says, "and it's only within the last couple of years that the international community has come forward and begun to put the kind of investment that's needed to get a handle on it."

Fewer than 1 percent of infected children globally are receiving the life-prolonging drugs. Without them, most will die before their fifth birthday.

Botswana, the first African nation to pledge to give free AIDS medicine to all who need it, is one of the few treating children through the public health system.

It boasts the continent's first center devoted to pediatric AIDS, operated by the Houston, Texas-based Baylor College of Medicine and funded by pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The Botswana-Baylor Children's Clinical Center of Excellence – a bright, modern facility where the walls are filled with cheery student art - offers some 1,400 African children the same care available in the United States.

"This center is a political statement that children also deserve the best," said pediatrics professor Gabriel Anabwani, who heads the center.

Jennifer, whose infected mother withheld their last name because of the stigma still associated with HIV, is one of its star patients. Her immune cells have soared and her viral load is undetectable.

"Every time 7 o'clock comes, she tells me: 'Mama, it's time for my medicine,"' Refilwe said proudly.

But even in Botswana, where some 5,000 youngsters are on treatment, government officials concede there are more options for adults. So far, only five of the 32 sites dispensing free anti-retrovirals around the country will treat children.

  • Bob Bicknell

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