Involve men in PMTCT programs

The Standard | September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011

Male involvement in Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programs in Africa has historically been low. In this article in The Standard (Zimbabwe), the Foundation's country director for Zimbabwe Agnes Mahomva highlights the importance of national PMTCT programs involving all stakeholders.

In the 90’s, HIV infection in Zimbabwe was seen as a death sentence with virtually no treatment available with children facing high risks of contracting the virus from their mothers before and during birth.

After the introduction of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programmes in Africa, male involvement has been absent due to some cultural aspects leaving women vulnerable with no support from their partners.

The Zimbabwe HIV and Aids conference held in Harare last week has revealed that couples are a population at risk of HIV infection thus male involvement in PMTCT programmes is essential for reducing the risk of HIV infections, both for couples and their unborn children.

Trevor Davies, the director of African Fathers Initiative reiterated that men should be included in the PMTCT programmes as men were key stakeholders in reproductive issues.

“Fathers control resources that can give women the access to PMTCT yet the language we use ignores the power of fatherhood in the prevention of HIV,” Davies said.

The failure to target men in health programmes for women and children has weakened the impact of interventions since men can significantly influence their partners’ reproductive health resources.

“Let us be creative and try to accommodate man in our programmes,” Davies said. About 70% of HIV infections are among married men and women with 48% of men and 58% of women reported to be married or living together.

PMTCT is a highly effective approach to the prevention of HIV transmission from a mother to her child. Owen Mugurungi, the head of HIV and TB unit said: “We have to move away from some cultural aspects that defines the roles of men in our societies.

“Getting men on board can also be through male circumcision where men can get the chance to get tested just as women go through PMTCT.” Agnes Mahomva, country director of  the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation and Zimbabwe National PMTCT Partnership Forum co-chair said: “Eliminating mother to child transmission requires a strong effective national PMTCT programme that involves all stakeholders — mothers, fathers, communities and indeed funding and implementing partners.”

“We remain convinced that mobilising and coordinating partner support is an essential element in eliminating new HIV infections in children,” Mahomva said.

A total of 61 000 infections of HIV are recorded in Zimbabwe per year with children accounting for 33%.