Programme enables babies as young as six weeks to be diagnosed after birth

FRANCISTOWN, Botswana - US ambassador Mark Dybul, who is also President George Bush's emergency plan for Aids relief global coordinator, attended a ceremony to highlight the programme in Francistown yesterday.

FRANCISTOWN, Botswana - US ambassador Mark Dybul, who is also President George Bush's emergency plan for Aids relief global coordinator, attended a ceremony to highlight the programme in Francistown yesterday.

Botswana this year received about R410 million from the programme to fight HIV-Aids.

The infant HIV-testing programme deals with tracking the progress of babies born to mothers with the virus.

Described as "very ambitious" by international Aids monitoring organisation, AidsMap, the programme has been successfully piloted at 11 clinics and one referral hospital in Botswana.

It enables HIV in babies to be diagnosed as early as six weeks after birth.

The process entails using DNA collected through dried blood samples.

The samples are stable, do not require refrigeration and can be transported.

Previously the infants were tested at 18 months when many were already in the throes of an advanced stage of infection.

Tests conducted last year by Botusa, a partnership between the Botswana government and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested that early testing can lead to reducing infected infants' HIV levels by 80 percent.

The country has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection.

The preliminary findings of the Botswana Aids Impact Survey indicated a 17,7 percent overall infection rate of the 1,7 million population, including 34,4 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 49.

Citizens are entitled to free antiretroviral drugs.

Pregnant women who test positive also get Aids drugs. - Sapa

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