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Innovative programme aims to halt the spread of HIV in Lesotho

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011
In Lesotho, Maseephephe, 25, and pregnant, holds the Mother-Baby Pack that has prevented her from passing HIV along to her unborn child.

By Malume Mohale

BOTHA BOTHE DISTRICT, Lesotho, 23 February 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 prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme, she has anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to protect her health and the health of her baby.

Programme saving lives

The 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.

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011
Officials gather at the nationwide launch of Mother-Baby Pack, an innovative programme in Lesotho that aims to end the transmission of HIV from parent to child in the country by 2015.

Together with 100 other pregnant women, Maseephephe walked three kilometres, led by a police band, to attend the Mother-Baby Pack 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 of the ARV drugs mothers would need between their first antenatal visit and ultimate healthy delivery. The packs contain medicines a mother and child need between 14 weeks of pregnancy and six weeks post-delivery. At six weeks, the mother returns to the clinic to refill the pack and have her baby tested for HIV through an early infant diagnosis test.

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 Lesotho/2011
UNICEF Chief of HIV/AIDS Jimmy Kolker and Maseephephe Phakoa celebrate the nationwide launch in Lesotho of the Mother-Baby Pack, an innovative programme that aims to end the transmission of AIDS from mother to childby 2015.

UNICEF’s goal

This package of medicines to protect the health of a mother and child will now be given to pregnant women attending antenatal care clinics. 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.

“UNICEF’s goal is to eliminate 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



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