By Confidente Reporter
THE Ministry of Health’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme has resulted in an 86 percent reduction of new HIV/AIDS infections countrywide during the 2015/2016 fiscal year. PMTCT refers to interventions to prevent the transmission of HIV from an HIV-positive mother to her infant during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding.
Speaking on the programme’s success, the Ministry’s spokesperson Ester Paulus attributed the feat on Ante-Natal Care (ANC) attendance that stood at 97 percent.
“Of all pregnant women who attended Ante Natal Care, 98 percent were tested and given their HIV results and almost 100 percent of those who delivered in health facilities knew their HIV status… The success of PMTCT programme has resulted in 86 percent reduction in new pediatric HIV infections in the country,” Paulus said.
Paulus added that the PMTCT services were introduced in 2002 and is available at 96 percent of public health facilities while early infant diagnosis for HIV exposed infants was introduced in 2005 and is available at 90 percent of public health facilities.
“Implementation of Lifelong Anti-Retroviral Therapy for PMTCT (OPTION B+) for all HIV positive pregnant and breastfeeding women started in 2014. This is the most effective way of reducing mother to child transmission of HIV.”
In a closely related matter, Paulus who at the time of going to print could not give statistics of how many infants are on Anti- Retroviral Therapy (ART) said the total number of active patients on ART is 151 076 countrywide.
Confidente in an interview with Health Minister Dr Bernard Haufiku, two weeks ago, he said that the over 150 000 people receive the treatment through public hospitals. Haufiku at the time said that the figure includes both adults and children but quickly pointed out that the latter decreased owing to Government’s strides in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). The likelihood of HIV passing from mother-to-child is 15 percent to 45 percent.
Haufiku attributed the figure to new ARV treatment guidelines saying people living with HIV go on ARV treatment as soon as they test positive, unlike in the past when they had to wait for their CD4 count to drop to a certain level.
“There are 150 000 people on ARV treatment at the moment. This figure includes young and old although the figure of those young is not as high because of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programmes. That is a success. Also we don’t wait for the CD4 count of a person and put them immediately on ARV treatment as soon as they test positive,” Haufiku explained.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) late last year announced new ARV treatment guidelines for HIV patients, forming part of the organisations revised and updated 2016 guidelines on the use of anti-retroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infections.
At the time, WHO said that the expanded use of antiretroviral treatment is supported by recent findings from clinical trials confirming that early use of ARV keeps people living with HIV alive and healthier, and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to their partners. In the past HIV-positive patients were mainly treated after their CD4 count had dropped to 500 cells/ mm3 before going on antiretroviral.
WHO in recent times ranked Namibia among the top African countries in ARV delivery. By 2015, about 104 531 HIV positive Namibians were on ARV treatment while the number increased slightly over 130 000 in 2016. The prevalence of HIV in Namibia is among the highest in the world.
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