… As ministry slashes mother-to-child HIV infections
By Confidente Reporter
UNITED States Ambassador, Thomas Daughton, has travelled to the Kavango East region, to join mothers and their babies celebrating the achievement of preventing HIV transmission from mother-to-child, thanks to the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) programme.
The EID programme implements early postnatal HIV testing of children as early as 48 hours after birth, who are born to HIV-positive mothers.
The Nyangana Catholic Hospital introduced a standard operation procedure that has managed to track, test and follow-up 94.8 percent of HIV babies.
This noble effort is supported by the United States government, with funding from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), through the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Daughton highlighted the successful implementation of the programme by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and its implementing partner IntraHealth – a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving public health in developing countries.
“This is a huge success. All of us here have one goal in common – we want to end HIV,” Daughton explained to community members and health officials at the event at Nyangana Catholic Hospital.
HIV can pass from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, but when effective medication is taken, the risk of transmission is prevented. This ensures that children are born and remain HIV-negative, even when an HIV-positive mother is breastfeeding her HIV-negative baby.
At the milestone event, Kavango East Regional Governor, Samuel Mbambo, likened the fight against HIV/AIDS to Namibia’s struggle for independence.
He described the disease as the enemy of all Namibians, calling it a killer that attacks without care, whether its victims are mothers, fathers, or children.
Mbambo expressed the need to integrate EID as part of a comprehensive HIV care package, which should include immunisation, growth monitoring, nutritional counselling and infection prevention, to improve overall child survival.
“Tracking these babies reduces the percentage of those lost to follow-up treatment and also avoids the development of new postpartum infections,” he said.
Since 2004, thanks to several programmes addressing mother-to-child transmission in Namibia, including the USAID Technical Assistance Programme (UTAP), the HIV infection rate in children born to HIV-positive mothers has dropped by over 90 percent, especially in the Nyangana area. Today, 19 out of 20 HIV-exposed babies are being tested and referred for treatment and care, if needed.
Daughton, however, cautioned health care workers and policymakers from relaxing their efforts, in closing the gap between diagnosis and linkage of treatment, as Nyangana mothers still face challenges, presented by the disease.
“It is no secret that HIV-positive infants are at their highest risk to die within the first three months of their life. Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure that children of HIV-positive mothers are diagnosed quickly, in order to immediately put them on treatment,” he said.
Globally, an estimated 2.1 million children are living with HIV, 90 percent of whom are in the sub-Saharan African countries, one of which is Namibia. An estimated 1 600 children are exposed to new HIV infections from their HIV positive mothers daily, according to USAID.
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