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One of the foreign visitors saluted by President Bush during his State of the Union speech is a 35-year-old nurse from Tanzania. Tatu Msangi, a single parent, became pregnant and soon discovered she was HIV-positive. With US assistance through President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Msangi received counseling and treatment at a Tanzanian clinic that have helped her survive and have kept her two-year-old daughter Faith HIV-free. Msangi and her daughter joined First Lady Laura Bush in the audience at the US Congress Monday night to hear the president recognize the impact of US overseas assistance programs for AIDS patients. Msangi also had the opportunity to visit the White House and speak with President Bush about
her work. She describes her personal experiences undergoing treatment and administering the anti-retroviral (ARV) drug nevirapine to other HIV-infected African women.
"This program, Prevention of Mother-to-Child HIV-AIDS, is a total package of ante-natal care. So every pregnant woman who walks in on the clinic is going to be offered counseling. When I went there to the clinic, I was offered counseling, and I found out that I was HIV-positive. Then, I was given nevirapine and the baby was born and was given nevirapine. Then, the follow-up counseling. And then, testing of the children. And then, they are found HIV-negative," she said.
At Tanzania's Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center the anti-retroviral program for pregnant mothers is administered by the US-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Msangi says it is constantly improving as supplies are made available to a wider range of clients.
"Many women walk in and get services. And for those who are HIV-positive who are given free ARV's, their children benefit from being given nevirapine, which is also free," she notes.
Although anti-retroviral AIDS therapy is a lifelong prospect for HIV survivors, use of the anti-retroviral drug nevirapine has proven particularly successful for HIV-positive mothers and their children. Msangi says the Kilimanjaro Center starts administering the therapy in the late stages of the pregnancy.
"Nevirapine is given to a mother when she is seven months pregnant. So at the onset of true labor, the mothers follow up with nevirapine and then the child is given nevirapine syrup right after birth," she points out.
Msangi's visit to Washington to campaign for a greater US commitment to fighting HIV-AIDS in Africa was rewarded Monday night by President Bush. In his State of the Union speech, the president asked Congress to double the original US PEPFAR funding, begun five years ago, by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years. Msangi said she thinks President Bush deserves congratulations on the success of the anti-AIDS program and thanks for his concern about fighting the spread of the disease.
"I think President Bush is a wonderful man who is in the front line to fight for the people of Africa, especially on HIV-AIDS issues. I will also request to continue helping African communities and maybe to improve the services to expand the program more in the rural areas so that many mothers can access this program easily," she noted.
From February 15-21, President and Mrs. Bush will visit five African countries, Benin, Liberia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Tatu Msangi's Tanzania. She says the Bushes will have a great opportunity to see for themselves how effective the US-funded anti-AIDS campaign is working, and she hopes it will open up new opportunities for expanding the program in other African communities where it is sorely needed.