Local Initiative To Send More Pediatric AIDS Docs to Africa

With one of the highest HIV-AIDS prevalence rates in the world, a small country in Africa will be getting more help from a local AIDS initiative in its battle to treat thousands of young children affected by the virus. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The Kingdom of Lesotho nestled high in the mountains and completely surrounded by the country of South Africa, is small, with only about 2 million residents. But it has a huge HIV-AIDS problem, with an estimated 23 percent of the country's adults infected with HIV-AIDS. Another 18,000-22,000 children are infected, with the numbers getting worse by the day. Because of the immense need, the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative is committing at least 14 pediatric AIDS doctors to the country and promising 10 new satellite clinics for kids with HIV/AID throughout the country. Dr. Edith Mohapi is the director of Baylor's Center of Excellence in Lesotho, where 1500 kids with HIV-AIDS are treated.

Mohapi: "They are going to see lots and lots of patients, which is of course is the primary purpose, but they are also going go train health professionals, not only in the capital, but throughout the whole country to increase capacity."

There are an estimated 180,000 orphans in Lesotho, kids who have lost their parents to HIV-AIDS. Dr. Jeff Pierce is one of the physicians who will leave for Lesotho next month.

Pierce: "It's really been a dream for a bunch of us to have the chance to work where we feel we might be the most helpful. I think by in large we'll be getting so much out of it. Maybe more than the people we're working with."

The AIDS pandemic in Lesotho has taken a huge toll on the county's economy, with many residents too sick to work and many of the rest left to care for them. Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative president Dr. Mark Kline says something has to be done now.

Kline: "Really the fact of the matter is that while long-term solutions are put in place, while Africa builds more medical schools and puts in place measures to draw its professionals back to their home countries, we have to put professional capacity on the continent now or we will lose a generation of HIV-infected children."

The new commitment from the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative totals about $2 million over the next 18 months. Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili says the partnership is crucial.

Mosisili: "Irrespective of how far flung our countries are, we are indeed members of the same family of humans and that all nations, rich and poor, big and small, are in the same ship."

Mosisili was in Houston to discuss the partnership. There are more details about the outreach through a link on our website, KUHF.org.

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