Kenya steadily marches towards zero infection

The Standard (Kenya) | December 5, 2012

In this piece from the Kenyan newspaper The Standard, the reporter discusses an EGPAF-commissioned study on how to best reduce mother-to-child transmission rates by integrating PMTCT into MCH facilities.

When someone was diagnosed with HIV, it was like a death sentence had just been announced.

Now success after success is being recorded in the fight against the disease.

In fact, efforts to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission that started about ten years ago have borne fruits.

In that period, the transmission has been reduced from 27 per cent in 2002 to 13 per cent. And this is good news as Kenya gears towards its 2015 target of zero infection.

Organisations working in the HIV and AIDS area want this figure – 13 per cent – to reduce further.

One such organisation, Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation, commissioned a research to find out loopholes that are standing on the way to achieving this reduction.

The research findings, released yesterday in Nairobi, show that a high number of mothers abscond postnatal follow-up on HIV treatments for their newborns, compromising their children’s survival.

Journey to combat

More than 90 per cent of the HIV infections in children the world over, result from mother to child transmission during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Since HIV was discovered among homosexuals 30 years ago, there has been a journey to combat the disease. As medicines were discovered to prolong life and enable the infected lead normal lives, focus turned to prevention  of infection of infants.

Statistics show that every child born of a HIV-positive mother has a 40 per cent risk of contracting HIV if no action is taken, however, that risk was reduced to 16 per cent as at last year, thanks to efforts to prevent mother to child transmission.

The research, Integration of HIV into MCH-A Platform to Elimination, found that with dispensaries and health centres’ adoption of the one-stop shop model of HIV service provision, HIV infection among unborn babies can be stopped.

This is because referring mother to HIV clinics brings issues such as stigma to the fore and hence poor attendance.

Antibody test

“The study revealed that infants in maternal and child health clinics are more likely to attend all postnatal visits. They also received an HIV antibody test within a year, which is critical for better health care for the child,” says  lead researcher, Dr John Ong’ech.

Half of the children infected with HIV die before their second birthdays if no follow-up or interventions are made as they succumb to preventable infections due to compromised immunity.

Ong’ech says the research was informed by concerns that a high number, 47 per cent, of HIV-infected mothers were absconding follow-up clinics after birth.

The study, which was carried out between 2008 and 2010 in health facilities in Vihiga and Bungoma and followed the babies until they turned one year old, gives yet another arsenal of fighting HIV – provide all services at integrated mother and child health facilities than at specialised clinics.

Quality of life

Kenya has an estimated 1.6 million people living with HIV and 100,000 HIV-infected mothers give birth every year.

“Diagnosing a child’s HIV status early helps to prevent infections, sicknesses and fatalities thereby improving the quality of their life,” says Ong’ech.

There is a lot that needs to be done to attain the zero infection target and enlightening mothers could help achieve this.

To ensure a HIV-free generation, partners are encouraged to test for the virus before they get children.

In the latest UNAids report, Kenya is identified as one of the few countries in Sub-Saharan African that has had the biggest reduction in the number of children infected with HIV.

At the launch of the study findings, Esther Murugi, minister for Special Programmes, said:  “Because of the determination to reduce the transmission from mother to baby, the world today is talking about a reality of a new generation free of HIV.

“I wish to call upon couples to go for an HIV test if they have not already done so. This will ensure that we have an HIV-free child even if the two of you are infected.”