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South Africa, 17 July 2016: UNICEF Executive Director visits Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Durban

© UNICEF South Africa/2016/Bisin
Mr. Anthony Lake seeing MomConnect SMS project in action at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial hospital in Durban.

17 July 2016, DURBAN, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa – Prince Mshiyeni’s hospital room resounded with the uplifting words of the song, ‘Why don’t you EMTCT where you are?’, welcoming UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake on the eve of the International AIDS conference starting on 18 July.

Today, the government of South Africa has every reason to take a moment and celebrate the successes of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS (PMTCT): one of the most successful and effective scale-up showing results in bringing down the rate of new HIV infections in children over the last decade, with the support of UNICEF and other partners. By 2015, an estimated 95 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women and 75 per cent of HIV-infected children were accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART). Between 2008 and 2015, there was an 84 per cent decrease in the number of new HIV infections in children in South Africa. As a result of the impressive scale up of the PMTCT programme, nearly 450,000 new HIV infections in children have been prevented since 2009.

At the hospital’s Kangaroo Mother Care unit, Mr. Lake met 29 year-old Zinhle and her son Ayandiswa, born premature two weeks before the visit. Ayandiswa slept peacefully strapped to Zinhle’s breast in a comfortable blanket wrap. Zinhle is HIV positive and has been on antiretroviral treatment since 2008. Zinhle takes her antiretroviral medication regularly from her primary health clinic and is virally suppressed. Ayandiswa is her second child. He was tested for HIV at birth. South Africa has recently scaled up birth HIV testing for all babies born to HIV positive mothers in an attempt to improve early diagnosis and link to treatment for HIV positive babies. The test result came in a day before Mr. Lake’s visit and Ayandiswa is HIV negative.

As she registered for antenatal care at her local clinic, Zinhle was given information about Momconnect and the option to register and receive SMS messages. MomConnect is a national program that sends out SMS messages to all pregnant women that are registered every two weeks through pregnancy until one year after the child’s birth.

© UNICEF South Africa/2016/Bisin
At the hospital’s Kangaroo Mother Care unit, Mr. Lake met 29 year-old Zinhle and her son Ayandiswa, born premature two weeks before the visit.

The messages cover antenatal care, nutrition, preparation for labour and delivery, HIV information, and information for the mother post-partum, as well as for the baby including vaccinations, infant feeding practices, and family planning.

‘I really enjoyed this service’, Zinhle shares. ‘I remember that the first time I received an SMS, it was advising me to talk to my baby as it was still in my womb to connect with him. I found it quite funny and I shared with my mum. She was so surprised. We laughed a lot about it but she told me I was lucky to get advice as she never enjoyed this type of counselling’. mHealth messaging for improving maternal, newborn, child health outcomes and care continues to be one of the greatest public health innovations in reaching women and children and supporting programmes like PMTCT.

UNICEF supported a pilot of MomConnect between 2011 and 2014 in collaboration with the Kwa Zulu Natal provincial department of health and partners, in select sites across two districts to explore innovative solutions towards effective PMTCT programmes and reaching all women with key messages. At the time, nearly 5,000 pregnant women were enrolled in the pilot, servicing two districts and dozens of healthcare facilities. Prince Mshiyeni hospital was one of the key pilot sites. Lessons from the pilot helped inform the design and scale up of the national programme. The national programme has currently registered almost 800,000 pregnant women in the country on Momconnect.

“The undeniable progress we have made in the last three decades does not mean that our struggle is over,” Mr. Lake said. “The battle against AIDS will not be over until we redouble prevention and treatment efforts; until we reach those young lives still being denied the progress that millions before them have enjoyed.”

 

 
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