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In Burundi, prevention services help reduce risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Corbett
Suzanne Ingarukuhda with her husband Salvatore Ngendabanka and six-month-old Emmanuel Iradukuna. Both Suzanne and Salvatore are HIV-positive, but treatment to prevent the mother to child transmission of the virus has ensured that Emmanuel is HIV-negative.

By Christina Corbett

KIRWENA, Burundi, 30 November 2011 - Suzanne Ingarukuhda, 28, is proud of her healthy baby boy – and for good reason. Both she and her husband, Salvatore Ngendabanka, 52, are HIV-positive, yet their son, six-month-old Emmanuel Iradukuna is HIV-negative.

“When I was six months pregnant I started to take medication to stop me passing on the disease to my baby, she said" "I still take it twice a day, at 7 o’clock in the morning and at 7 o’clock in the evening. It’s easy – and I have never forgotten.”

Reducing the risk of transmission

With a reported HIV/AIDS prevalence of 3.3 per cent among adults, Burundi is home to an estimated 28,000 children living with HIV/AIDS. Among women there are around 380,000 pregnancies every year, and an estimated 7,800 pregnant women are expected to be HIV-positive. This means that they can unknowingly infect their babies if nothing is done to reduce transmission.

Known as PMTCT (prevention of mother-to- child transmission), the risk of transmission can be reduced to two per cent or less, with specific interventions in non-breastfeeding populations.

At the UNICEF-supported health centre in Kirwena, Bururi province, around 110 women a month come for prenatal consultations in the first three months of pregnancy. Like Suzanne, 95 per cent of these women get tested for HIV.

The health centre is run by local non-governmental organisation, Caritas. Community health workers based in the villages encourage expectant mothers to come in for prenatal consultations within the first three months of pregnancy, and more and more women are showing up voluntarily.”

Across Burundi, UNICEF is working to strengthen PMTCT services by supporting partner organisations Caritas and the Association Burundaise pour le Bien Etre Familial (ABUBEF).  Since 2008 UNICEF has been providing financial assistance and training to help build capacity of staff and improve access to services.

Getting men involved

Challenges remain however, and one major problem is getting men to come for HIV-testing and involve themselves in the PMTCT process.

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Krzysiek
Early HIV testing is the best way for pregnant women to prevent HIV-positive mothers to pass the virus to their child.

“Many women get tested but don’t come back for the results because they are worried about what their husband will say," explained Dr Adronis Nigukuri, head of the maternity unit at the hospital in the town of Makamba. Many want to be tested but wait to get their husband’s permission,”

Pascal is head of a network of HIV-positive people in Makamba, and an active promoter of testing among men. “Slowly it is becoming more common for men to come to prenatal consultations with their wives,” he said. “This means that more men are getting tested, and if they are HIV-positive they are involved in the PMTCT process from the beginning.”

For Sharif Uwimana, a member of the Makamba network, making the decision to get tested was hard.

“My wife came first and insisted that I come, but it wasn’t easy," he said. "We both found out that we are HIV-positive, which was very difficult, but we received counselling and that helped, and life goes on."

"Our last child was born HIV negative, thanks to PMTCT treatment,” he added.

Spreading the word

In the Caritas-run health centre in Banga, Kyanza province, Virginie Kitegetse, 25, is now an advocate for HIV-testing and PMTCT treatment.

“I knew that there was a way to have a child that didn’t have HIV, and as my first child is HIV-positive, I wanted to make sure that this one wasn’t,” she explained.

Today, 11-month-old child has been tested for HIV twice, with negative results.

“Everyone knows we are HIV-positive,” sayid Virginie, “so people come to see how healthily our child is growing.”



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