Children and HIV and AIDS

Supporting and protecting mothers living with HIV

UNICEF/UN Radio podcast

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© UNICEF/2008/Galanek
At the UN Radio studio in New York, Nazneen Damji (left) and moderator Amy Costello discuss what may be done to protect and support mothers living with HIV.

NEW YORK, USA, 18 November 2008 – Roughly half the infants who contract HIV from their mothers die before their second birthday. These deaths can be prevented: Antiretroviral prophylaxis given to a woman during pregnancy and delivery, and to her infant shortly following birth, have been shown to sharply reduce the likelihood of the mother passing HIV infection to her baby.

There has been some progress. In 2007, 33 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received antiretroviral regimens, including antiretroviral therapy to prevent transmission of the virus to their infants, compared with only 10 per cent in 2004.

Still, far too few pregnant women are aware of their HIV status. In 2007, only 18 per cent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries from which data was available received an HIV test.

Advancing the conversation
A podcast discussion, hosted recently by UNICEF to advance the conversation on maternal health, features three panellists: Dr. Mitch Besser, founder and Medical Director of mothers2mothers, an NGO based in South Africa; Nazneen Damji, a UNIFEM programme specialist on gender, HIV and AIDS; and Dr. Ruth Bamela Engo, Chief Executive and co-founder of African Action on AIDS in Cameroon.

The panellists discuss how the lack of support and protection for mothers living with HIV is deeply tied to gender inequality. They also suggest ways to address this critical issue.

This is the second of two podcasts produced by UNICEF on issues in maternal and neonatal health. The first podcast, ‘Delivering on the Frontlines’, focused on maternal health in conflict, post-conflict and emergency situations.

The discussions are recorded at the United Nations Radio studios in New York and distributed online and through UNICEF Radio podcasts. The series is hosted by Amy Costello, a former correspondent for Public Radio International. Ms. Costello is also the moderator for UNICEF’s ‘Beyond School Books’, a podcast series on education in emergencies.

Maternal HIV challenges and solutions
During the latest podcast, Dr. Besser – drawing from his experience working with mothers living with HIV – says it is critical for a newly diagnosed woman to hear that her life isn’t over. If this message comes from other women and mothers living with HIV, he says, “rather than going home desperate, she goes home with some measure of hope.”

HIV-positive women working with mothers2mothers are also heard as empowered voices within their own communities to prevent the spread of the epidemic, says Dr. Besser. 

Ms. Damji points out that working with the partners and spouses of mothers is equally important. She provides compelling statistics about the growing number of women who are infected with HIV across the world and attributes these rising numbers to gender inequities.

Dr. Engo describes how women living with HIV also tend to internalize the stigma they encounter in society, and she stresses the urgent need to address this. All three panellists emphasize the importance of economic independence for women living with HIV and the immense role that education can play in prevention initiatives.

World AIDS Day is 1 December – the day when individuals and organizations around the world come together to bring attention to the global AIDS epidemic. This year marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, and UNICEF will mark the occasion by releasing ‘Children and AIDS: Third Stocktaking Report 2008’. Please visit the publications page to see the report on 1 December.


 

 

Audio

Dr. Mitch Besser, Nazneen Damji, Dr. Ruth Bamela Engo and moderator Amy Costello discuss support and protection for mothers living with HIV.
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