New plan to prevent HIV spread to babies

Saturday October 30 2010

By DANIEL OTIENO [email protected]

Unicef on Saturday unveiled a new plan to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids.

While launching the plan in Kisumu, the fund’s executive director Antony Lake said it involved providing drugs to mothers diagnosed with HIV.

The programme will be rolled out in four other countries in African. In Kenya, Kisumu, Kisii, Eldoret and Nakuru have been selected.
Mr Lake said a pack of the drugs costs Sh6,700.

Nyanza provincial medical officer Dr Ojuang Lusi said despite the work to control mother-to-child transmission of HIV, not much had been achieved hence a shift in strategy was welcome.

He said that the packaging of the drugs for mothers to use at home would increase their chances of taking it as some avoid hospitals and health centres soon after being diagnosed with HIV.

“The rate of mother-to-child transmission is 37 per cent. Despite the availability of methods to halt infections of children at birth, there is little change. We need to change the ball game,” Dr Lusi said.

While HIV/Aids prevalence rate has been on a steady decline in Kenya, 22,000 children are infected with HIV annually through mother-to-child transmission.

Pregnant women

Overall, 1.4 million people are living with HIV in Kenya, including 81,000 pregnant women. About a half of HIV infected children live in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, according to Unicef.

The country has made progress in increasing its mother-to-child transmission programmes over the past years, with services being offered in 4,000 out of about 4,500 antenatal care centres countrywide.

Antenatal care

While a large percentage of women attend antenatal clinic, less than a half complete four antenatal care visits and more than a half give birth at home.

Thus, a large proportion of women miss out on the life-saving methods available that could protect their babies from getting infected with the virus.

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission is further hampered by the fact that about a third of pregnant women living with HIV receive Nevirapine only, instead of the more effective combination of drugs. There is also the fact that babies born to mothers with HIV are not tested early enough.