|© UNICEF video|
|After birth, infants in Yaoundé’s main hospital are referred back to the paediatric centre, where they receive special care until their HIV status is determined.|
By Thierry Delvigne-Jean
YAOUNDE, Cameroon, 6 June 2005 – Every year, about 600,000 children around the world are infected by the HIV virus during the mother's pregnancy, during birth or through breastfeeding.
The majority of HIV-positive pregnant women live in Africa, where infant mortality rates have doubled in recent years in the countries most affected by HIV/AIDS.
But this trend can be reversed. The success achieved by the main hospital in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, is proof. The hospital has cut by half the number of infants who contract the virus through mother-to-child transmission in its maternity centre.
The programme, supported by the Chantal Biya Foundation and UNICEF, offers a comprehensive package of services under one roof, helping women and children to receive the prevention, treatment and care services they need, during pregnancy and well beyond.
A pregnant woman who is HIV positive usually has a 25 to 30 per cent chance of transmitting the virus to her child if no preventative measures are taken.
|© UNICEF video|
|Micheline, a mother of nine, attends a counselling session.|
“Because of our package of interventions, we have succeeded in reducing that number to 12 per cent – this represents a 50 per cent reduction,” says Dr. Gilbert Tene, who oversees the mother-to child transmission programme at the paediatrics department of Yaoundé’s main hospital.
During their first consultation, women are offered free HIV testing and counselling. Women who are HIV-positive will receive free anti-retroviral therapy, which can halve the chance of transmitting the HIV virus to their babies.
Treatment options include a one-month course of zidovudine (AZT) during the last weeks of pregnancy, or a single dose of nevirapine during delivery, followed by a single dose to the infant within 72 hours of birth.
In the months before delivery, information sessions with trained counsellors offer an opportunity to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention, pregnancy, nutrition and the risks and benefits of breastfeeding.
|© UNICEF video|
|Dr. Gilbert Tene discusses nutrition issues with a mother.|
Micheline, a mother of nine who has come to the clinic for help during several recent pregnancies, says she prefers the clinic to other options because of the wide range of services the hospital offers.
“Beginning with the first consultation, we receive advice on everything we need to do during the pregnancy. And after birth, they tell us how to take care of our children to keep them healthy,” she says.
After birth, infants born to HIV-positive mothers are referred back to the paediatric centre, where they will receive special care until their HIV status is determined. HIV-positive children will receive free antiretroviral drugs until the age of 15.
“Now that we’ve achieved impressive results with our prevention programme and our care and treatment programme for HIV-positive children, we would like to implement a home-based care and support programme,” says Dr. Tene.
An estimated 10 per cent of women who become pregnant each year in Cameroon are HIV-positive. Implemented on a national scale, programmes like the ones in Yaoundé’s Principal hospital could keep thousands of babies from becoming infected with HIV every year.
UNICEF correspondent Thierry Delvigne-Jean reports on the mother-to-child transmission prevention project in Cameroon.