|A mother and child in a refugee camp in eastern Chad, part of a region where attention to the humanitarian crisis and insecurity has taken the focus off many other public health issues.|
By Roshan Khadivi
N'DJAMENA, Chad, 17 March 2009 – The recent National Conference on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission and Paediatric Care, held here in Chad's capital, brought government officials, health workers and community and religious leaders together to address the persistence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
As of 2007, some 18,000 pregnant women in Chad were living with HIV. The vast majority of children living with HIV and AIDS acquired the virus through their infected mothers.
The conference – organized by UNICEF and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – focused on active coordination of a campaign to identify and treat women and children living with HIV.
|© UNICEF Chad/2009/Saleh|
|Government officials, health workers, civil society representatives and community leaders attend the recent National Conference on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission and Paediatric Care, in N'Djamena, Chad.|
"The theme of this forum cannot leave anyone indifferent, because it relates to the vulnerability of people who are dear to us. I am talking about the health of children and their mothers," UNICEF Representative in Chad Dr. Marzio Babille said in his address to the participants.
Free treatment is not enough
Considerable progress has been made in Chad with the creation of an institutional framework to fight HIV. A free PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) programme has been introduced, for example, along with the provision of free HIV testing and anti-retroviral (ARV) drug treatments.
Nevertheless, only a small portion of pregnant women in Chad receive testing for HIV, and very few of pregnant women living with HIV have used the PMTCT services.
As a result, thousands of children every year become needlessly infected with HIV. As of 2007, 19,000 children in Chad were living with the virus.
Ensuring diagnosis and treatment
"These children are innocent. They are not born to die," Dr. Babille said, calling for a plan to revive the commitments made by African leaders in the Abuja Declaration of 2001. These commitments include achieving, by 2010, universal access to prevention services, care, support and treatment of HIV – especially among children and women.
The N'Djamena conference highlighted the need to engage communities in ensuring early diagnosis in children born to mothers with HIV, and the early initiation of ARV treatments for infected children.
UNICEF Representative in Chad Dr. Marzio Babille discusses the ongoing fight against mother to child transmission of HIV.