Zimbabwe Nears Virtual Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV

Zimbabwe is on track to be one of the first nations in sub-Saharan Africa to virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This is a remarkable feat, considering that, as of 2009, Zimbabwe had one of the highest burdens of new HIV infections in the world and was experiencing a mother-to-child HIV transmission rate of approximately 30%.

This breathtaking progress is a testament to the power of partnerships. Two global health leaders, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) to turn the tide on this epidemic by focusing on improving maternal, newborn, and child health in Zimbabwe while working hand-in-hand with a country eager to address a widespread HIV epidemic and strengthen child survival.

“The harsh economic situation made it very difficult to roll out [HIV programs] on a national scale,” says Agnes Mahomva, M.D., EGPAF-Zimbabwe country director. “The Ministry realized that there was a need to roll out the PMTCT program, but the Ministry alone was not able to do this massive work.”

In 2010, EGPAF launched the Virtual Elimination of HIV Infection in Infants and Young Children project in Zimbabwe, with a $45 million grant from CIFF. Through this five-year project, EGPAF and CIFF set a goal to reduce the mother-to-child transmission rate from 30% to 12% by the end of 2015. Today, the transmission rate is estimated to be 6.7% and dropping. 

“That is amazing,” says Dr.  Mahomva, the “Everyone in Zimbabwe is celebrating.”

“We have been collaborating with MOHCC to support a comprehensive program to make antiretroviral treatment available at all maternal, newborn, and child centers,” explains Dr. Mahomva. “We have been working to ensure that all women and HIV-exposed children are tested for HIV at any antenatal or postnatal care clinic and are put on lifelong antiretroviral treatment if they test positive.”

“With the right policies…with the right frameworks…if you just add that bit of funding to it, you get the results you are aspiring to,” says Angela Mushavi, M.D., National PMTCT and Pediatric HIV Care and Treatment Coordinator with MOHCC .

Much of the success of the partnership can be attributed to dynamic goal-setting. During each year of the program, EGPAF and CIFF developed specific and detailed plans in partnership with the MOHCC to expand PMTCT and HIV care and treatment services nationally. To reach goals set, EGPAF focused on strengthening the health system and improving capacity of each district of the country to manage the epidemic.

Another key component has been the implementation of District Focal Persons, who coordinate PMTCT activities with District Nursing Officers and ensure all sites get the training and support they need.

“You could call them foot soldiers, if you like,” says Dr. Mushavi. “They worked on the ground and they kept a close watch with what was going on at the rural health level, as well as at the district level.”

Tichaona Kazuru, one of the community health workers says that he finds fulfillment in his role, as he explains his visit to a family in his community: “I came to the mother and I talked to her about the HIV-positive result that her infant had received. It makes me feel really good that we managed to help this baby to get onto treatment quickly because I know that he’s going to have a long and healthy life.”

As this historic project reaches its five-year completion date in December 2015, Dr. Mahomva takes satisfaction that hundreds of thousands of children are not only surviving, they are thriving—HIV-free. This is thanks to the work made possible through CIFF’s investment. Due to the success of this partnership and program activities, EGPAF will continue to collaborate closely with CIFF, MOHCC and others to fill critical gaps toward the shared goal of ending of mother to child transmission in Zimbabwe.

“We are turning off the tap,” says Mahomva, firmly. “What we really wanted to prioritize was turning off the HIV tap and ending transmission of HIV to children.”

To experience the success of this partnership and learn more about its activities, watch this video.