Lesotho, 22 March: Innovative programme aims to halt the spread of HIV
By Malume Mohale
BOTHA BOTHE DISTRICT, Lesotho, 22 March 2011 - Maseephephe Phakoa, 25, is pregnant for the third time. She plans to name her child Onkarabile, meaning, “God has answered my prayers.”
Maseephephe lost her first two babies to pregnancy complications and contracted HIV during her second pregnancy. Now, thanks to the UNICEF-supported Mother-Baby Pack programme, she has anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to protect her health and the health of her baby.
Programme saving livesThe programme provides pregnant mothers with ARV drugs, which have been so effective that during 2008 and 2009 only three of the 198 children born in the district were HIV-positive - despite a quarter of all adults having the disease.
Together with 100 other pregnant women, Maseephephe walked three kilometres, led by a police band, to attend the launch ceremony in Botha Bothe this past January.
It was at this district hospital in 2008 that health workers started assembling the take-home packs all of the ARV drugs mothers would need between their first antenatal visit and ultimate healthy delivery. The innovative programme is a lifesaver for people like Maseephephe who live a long way from a clinic and often cannot make follow up visits.
Lesotho’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng, UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS, Jimmy Kolker, WHO, Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Baylor International AIDS Initiative, Pediatric AIDS Institute and Mothers2Mothers were all present at the launch, along with chiefs of diplomatic missions and NGO partners.
“It is the aim of the Government of Lesotho to ensure that all children in this country are born HIV free. Lesotho is committed to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV before 2015,” said Dr. Ramatlapeng, adding that her Ministry aims to make the Mother-Baby Pack available in all of the country’s 194 health centres by the end of the year.
UNICEF’s ultimate goalThis package of ARV medicines and antibiotics to protect the health of a mother and child will now be given to all pregnant women attending Antenatal Care clinics in the country. These include pregnant women who test HIV positive during their first antenatal visit, HIV positive pregnant women who are already on anti-retroviral treatment and HIV negative pregnant women who are receiving vitamin tablets. The three boxes are accompanied by a leaflet with clear instructions on which drugs the mothers need to take and which ones to give to their babies after birth.
“UNICEF’s goal is to eliminate vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child and to ensure that all children are born HIV negative,” said Mr. Kolker.
The programme has utterly changed the life of Maseephephe and her family, who are rejoicing in the prospect of a healthy baby.
“We are all eagerly waiting for the birth of Onakabile,” she said excitedly.
Emily Meehan contributed to this story from New York.
More stories from Lesotho
“Towards Universal Access" on HIV/AIDS (2010)