Page last updated at 09:22 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 10:22 UK

Bill Clinton rallies HIV workers

By Jane Dreaper
BBC Health in Ethiopia

Bill Clinton
Mr Clinton's visit prompted great excitement
The twice weekly market in Debre Zeit is always a lively affair.

But on Friday hundreds of people poured into the main field, to wave flags and greet the former American president, Bill Clinton.

Mr Clinton came to this area to see a health centre staffed by "extension workers".

These are nurses, generally women, who work in local communities and make a special effort to hook people into health services.

It's vital that we get universal access to HIV testing, so everyone can know their status, and so we can prevent babies from being born with HIV
Bill Clinton

It may sound like an obvious idea, but Ethiopia is a country where healthcare is not a part of many people's lives.

Less than 10% of women who give birth here come into contact with health services.

So the government is very proud that there are 22,000 health extension workers - and the total will soon reach 30,000.

HIV blackspot

Looking after the health of mothers and their babies is particularly important in Debra Zeit, an area of lakes and lush farmland where HIV is more common than in other parts of Ethiopia.

Banner
The centre has a vital role to play

It is fairly easy for the virus that causes Aids to be passed on to a baby during childbirth, so testing and then providing the right sort of drug treatment is vital.

Mr Clinton told the crowd in Debra Zeit: "I want to thank the health extension workers for what they're doing.

"It's vital that we get universal access to HIV testing, so everyone can know their status, and so we can prevent babies from being born with HIV."

The Godino health centre has several beds and other medical equipment, which the Clinton Foundation helped provide by organising donations from American hospitals.

The Foundation regards Godino as a pilot - and it wants to fund 50 similar centres over the next three years.

Later, during the bumpy 90-minute bus ride back to the capital Addis Ababa, the head of the Clinton HIV/Aids Initiative, Anil Soni, told me how the approach to HIV-positive mothers differs in the developing world.

In the UK and other western countries, mothers are dissuaded from breastfeeding - for fear they might pass on the virus.

But in Africa, formula milk is a controversial area.

It can cause more problems than it solves - for example, by giving the child diarrhoea if it's mixed with unclean water.

Mr Soni said: "The worst thing you can do is have mixed feeding, in terms of the risk of HIV transmission.

"Where formula is an option, using just that reduces transmission to its lowest rates.

"But exclusive breastfeeding still gets the risk quite low, and it also ensures you have all the advantages of breastfeeding."




SEE ALSO
Progress made in HIV prevention
29 Jul 08 |  Health

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