Increased prevention of mother-to-child HIV Transmission in Malawi
Blantyre – 20 October 2007 – Gaelle Sevenier. In Mwanza district, on the border between Malawi and Mozambique, James and Mavis live with their four children in a traditional little thatched hut. Their youngest child Ruth was born a few weeks ago. While pregnant, the mother heard of the district’s mobilization to promote couple counseling and testing of HIV. The married couple decided to take the test together. Both were found HIV positive. The baby was yet to be born, and there was still a chance to save her from being infected.
Listening carefully to the medical guidance, the mother managed with difficulty to get transport to the hospital and handed her baby to the medical staff straight after delivery so that the child could receive ARV drops to prevent infection. The hospital counselor gave the mother guidelines on how to feed the baby. “The family must meet certain standards before choosing to feed their baby with formula milk” explains Dr. Kondwani Ng’oma, UNICEF PMTCT Specialist. “Most of all, it has to be affordable, feasible, acceptable and sustainable. If the family can not afford the milk, it is better to provide exclusive breast feeding for the first six months instead of giving the child porridge.” Mavis does not have the money for milk. The family will know within a little over a year if Ruth is HIV positive or not.
With almost a million infected Malawians, HIV/AIDS is becoming Malawi’s number one socio-economic problem. Death rates have tripled since 1990. Every day, more than 200 people die of AIDS in the country, leaving behind more than half a million of orphan children.
Up to 30,000 babies in Malawi could be infected every year if nothing was done to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission. Medical intervention can cut the risk of mother-to-child transmission by half. PMTCT policies and guidelines have been developed to guide health workers on services such as awareness-raising and education, infant feeding and young child feeding options, antiretroviral treatment and social support.
Mwanza District Hospital is the first prevention to mother-to-child HIV transmission site supported by UNICEF. The Hospital caters for a population of 342,000 with an ART clinic that manages both adult and pediatric HIV and AIDS. “At the moment, there are 152 PMTCT sites in Malawi, which is about 28% of all sites in the country,” says Aida Girma, UNICEF representative in Malawi. “By next year, all 544 maternal and child health sites in Malawi should have PMTCT services.” The PMTCT Acceleration Plan to reach all maternal and child health facilities and ensure every pregnant mother knows her HIV status is being led by the Ministry of Health with support from development partners.