|Threasa (centre, in blue wrap), with her eight-month-old son, Siniza, at her back, attends a health counselling session in Samfya, Zambia.|
MANSA, Zambia 16 September 2010 – The birth of a child is a huge celebration in Zambia and across Africa – as the saying goes, it’s ‘a mother’s joy.’ But when a woman is living with HIV, pregnancy can also be an enormous challenge.
Eight-month-old Siniza was born at a health clinic in the rural town of Samfya, in Zambia’s Luapula province. His parents learned that they were HIV-positive during an ante-natal consultation. Fortunately, however, they were able to participate in the clinic’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme, which is led by the government and supported by UNICEF and its partners.
Siniza was put on prophylactic anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment to prevent HIV transmission and was tested for the disease at six weeks of age. To the family’s great relief, he has not inherited the virus.
In Zambia, as in many places in sub-Saharan Africa, many pregnant women live with HIV. An estimated 95,000 children under the age of five are also living with the virus. The vast majority of these children acquired HIV either before they were born, during pregnancy or delivery or when they are being breastfed.
|A health worker draws blood from Threasa, who is HIV-positive, at a clinic in the rural town of Samfya, Zambia.|
About 148 children under the age of five die in Zambia for every 1,000 live births. HIV is a major contributor to this unacceptably high number. Nearly 35 per cent of babies born to HIV-infected parents inherit the disease, and without treatment about half of those will die before their second birthday.
The prevention of mother-to-child transmission, however, could go a long way toward reducing child deaths from HIV-related illnesses.
“A comprehensive programme for PMTCT is the single most effective tool to significantly reduce the numbers of new paediatric HIV infections,” said UNICEF Representative in Zambia Dr. Iyorlumun J. Uhaa.
Zambia has already had success with PMTCT. More than 70 per cent of Zambian health facilities offer the programme and more than half of pregnant women living with HIV in the country are receiving antiretroviral drugs.
|A health worker writes a referral for antri-retroviral therapy for a patient in Zambia's Samfya district.|
Challenges remain, however. The majority of facilities providing PMTCT care are located in urban centres, and it is often difficult for rural families to get proper medical care. In this respect, Siniza was one of the lucky ones.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization are addressing the need for extended PMTCT services with an innovative pack of medicines. The UNICEF ‘Mother-Baby Pack’ contains medications needed to protect the health of a mother living with HIV, and to prevent her from passing the infection to her baby.
The project represents a push to help Zambia meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals targets related to HIV and AIDS. The MDGs, a set of internationally recognized targets for reducing poverty worldwide, calls for countries to have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV – and to ensure universal access to treatment – by the year 2015.
And in Zambia, improvements can’t come quickly enough. “This gives hope to women and children in Zambia,” said Dr. Uhaa.