Note from the Field: Achieving an HIV-Free Generation in Uganda
April 19, 2011
A few months ago, a long-time friend of mine had her first baby. Although I was genuinely happy for her, one thought continued to cross my mind…was her baby born healthy? My friend and her partner have been living with HIV for the past seven and nine years respectively.
They met each other in a Post Test Club (a club for those who have already tested positive for HIV) four years back and have been together ever since.
Recently, we received the baby’s blood results: she was HIV negative. I breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated the good news with a glass of red wine.
My girlfriend has come a long way. During her pregnancy, she was linked to HIV treatment services and received the full course of antiretrovirals (ARVs) for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT).
Health workers in the antenatal care clinic followed her progress closely and continued to monitor her treatment even after the baby was born. Simultaneously, her infant was put on ARVs and provided with routine clinical care.
My friend was advised to breastfeed exclusively for six months before introducing complimentary foods while she continued to breastfeed for up to a year.
Last week while in Ibanda District at a health facility supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
, I visited two families: one an HIV-positive couple whose 11-month old baby is free from HIV, the second a 29-year old mother of four who discovered that she was HIV-positive while pregnant with her third child.
She, too, was enrolled in an antiretroviral therapy (ART) clinic and today, both her third- and fourth-born children are HIV-negative.
Like my girlfriend, both families attribute their babies’ negative status on the availability of drugs, counseling, and testing received through antenatal care.
Full PMTCT coverage in Uganda would prevent 20,000 babies
from infection each year, or approximately 2,100 every month.
Unfortunately, mother-to-child transmission of HIV contributes to 22% of the 100,000 new HIV infections annually in Uganda
Without treatment, almost half of these HIV-positive children will die before their second birthdays.
Sadly, according to the UNAIDS 2010 report, Uganda is one of the few countries where ARV coverage in children is less than that of adults.
In a bid to eliminate pediatric AIDS, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is rolling out the revised national PMTCT guidelines, based on World Health Organization
recommendations, which involves taking a multi-drug regimen of ARVs during pregnancy, labor, and through breast feeding.
As part of the roll-out of the new national guidelines, the MOH, together with its implementing partners, are retraining health workers in the new strategies for providing PMTCT services.
If Uganda attained full coverage and utilization of PMTCT services, it would prevent about 20,000 babies from being infected with HIV each year. This translates to approximately 2,100 HIV-free babies every month.
My girlfriend and the folks in Ibanda are living proof that we have the medicine and the science to eliminate pediatric AIDS in Uganda.
The costs of PMTCT are less than the costs of providing life-long care and treatment to infected children. We need to make this proven, cost-effective prevention method available to all pregnant women so we can create a generation free of HIV.
Sanyu Nkiinzi is the Communications and Outreach Officer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in Uganda. This Note From the Field was recently published in New Vision, Uganda’s national newspaper.