Tanzania: Reduction of Mother-to-Child Transmissions Bears Fruit

AllAfrica.com | September 1, 2013

Arusha — IT is still a killer disease, but for some reason HIV/ Aids seems to be a forgotten case now; because there have been fewer discussions about it of late, compared with the situation in the recent past.

Maybe because efforts to contain the infections, especially 'mother to child' transmissions, have been bearing fruit to the extent that the disease no longer sounds to be a threat that even used to drive victims into committing suicide.

Behind the paediatric HIV Prevention mission, comes the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) which has just observed its 10th anniversary in the battle against HIV in Tanzania.

EGPAF's country director, Dr Jeroen Van't Pad Bosch was in Arusha over the weekend to mark the occasion here and used the opportunity to reveal that the foundation has been assisting 1,400 clinics in Tanzania, where over 2 million expectant women were provided with free counselling and testing for HIV.

"Also more than 75,000 pregnant women who were discovered to be infected have been put under special 'prevention of mother to child transmission' (PMTCT) treatment programme in which they are supplied with antiretroviral drugs for their own wellbeing, as well as medication that restrain the virus from being passed into the foetus," he stated.

The foundation-backed Mother-to-child HIV prevention success story is more defined in Arusha region where out of 471 'positively tested' pregnant women, who reported for the PMTCT programme at the specially designated Saint Elizabeth Hospital in the last four years, only seven gave birth to infected babies, meaning that 464 HIV-positive mothers gave birth to bouncing and very healthy babies.

"This year 2013, there have been 64 expectant mothers reporting for check-ups here, who were found to be HIV-positive but only one of them gave birth to an infected baby, 63 births were all safe, last year the number was 60 but again only one child was born with HIV," revealed.

Dr Thomas Kway, adding that the highest number of infected babies was recorded back in 2009 when 3 infants were born from 49 mothers, but later the figure dropped to just 2 babies out of 94 mothers in the following year (2010).

Since 2005 Saint Elizabeth also known as 'Kwa Padri Babu' hospital, which is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese here, was the region's centre for the prevention of mother to child infections though at the moment the programme has been spread to other hospitals in the other seven districts.

SEHA has since been made a District Designated Hospital thus receiving some support from the government. The Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation recently constructed a special PMTCT wing at Saint Elizabeth Hospital at the cost of 400 mil/- a project funded through the United States' Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention; apparently EGPAF works hand-in-hand with USAID in the prevention of mother-to-child infections programmes.

Before the two-floor PMCT building was constructed at the hospital, patients under the special HIV programme at Saint Elizabeth used to be sheltered under a makeshift structure made from two shipping containers.

The In-charge at 'Father Babu' (SEHA) hospital Dr Thomas Kway said most patients being cared at the centre, happen to be poor people who cannot even afford their daily meals and as the result, get overwhelmed by the effects of Anti-retroviral medication.

"We are in the position that in addition to providing the ARVs to HIV patients, the hospital has to also give them meals or provide them with money to buy food so that they may be able to take the pills," he said.

According to Dr Kway, many people stop taking medication because ARVs side effects can be very powerful to people suffering from malnutrition. The other problem is the fact that most Tanzanian males, especially married ones, refuse to check for their health status leaving that to their spouses.

"Most of them believe that as long as their wives are safe from infections then they also become automatically safe but which, as far as HIV-Aids infections are concerned, is a very wrong notion," he pointed out.

Beyond Arusha, however, EGPAF has been working in conjunction with Regional Health Management Teams (RHMTs) in other regions including Kilimanjaro, Tabora, Mtwara and Lindi, reaching out to people who cannot afford health services but suffering under HIV-Aids related maladies.

The foundation's programmes have existed for the last decade and according to the country director, they will be sustainable until the infection figures drop to zero.

The foundation happens to be a global leader in the fight against Paediatric HIV and AIDS, reaching out to nearly 15 million women in 15 countries, with services to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies during birth, as well as ensuring the mothers get assisted with essential medication.