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Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in rural Zambia

© UNICEF video
Mothers and children in Zambia have a better chance as a result of a new, UNICEF-supported programme that focuses on prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

On 17-19 April, leading global health experts, policy makers and parliamentarians will gather in South Africa for Countdown to 2015 – a conference on child and maternal mortality. This is one in a series of related stories.

By Guy Hubbard

LUAPULA PROVINCE, Zambia, 16 April 2008 – For the past eight months, 34-year-old Regina, a mother in Zambia’s Luapula Province, has been waiting anxiously for the final test results that will decide her daughter’s future. It is possible that her child may test positive for HIV.

Regina's local clinic runs a prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme. By providing both the mother and newborn child with doses of the antiretroviral drug Neviropene, the programme can reduce the chance of the virus being transmitted to her child.
“During childbirth, they gave me and my baby Neviropene, and because of that I hope that my baby will be HIV-negative,” said Regina.

Addressing a lack of resources

Due to the lack of proper services, health workers in some rural areas of Luapula have often been forced to watch helplessly as babies continue to be born with the virus, despite the fact that effective and affordable PMTCT programmes are available elsewhere.

“There are some of my patients who we suspect have HIV and their babies died after being delivered,” said nurse Regina Olwita. “I think about 10 per cent of my patients would need PMTCT.”

Now, thanks to an agreement between UNICEF, the non-governmental organization Family Health International (FHI) and the Zambian Ministry of Health, PMTCT programmes are being established in every rural clinic in three isolated districts of Luapula.

“FHI is already supporting PMTCT services in these three districts, but with new funding and technical support from UNICEF, our partners at the Ministry of Health will soon be able to offer these services at every medical facility in the districts, reaching 90 per cent coverage,” said the FHI Country Director and Chief of Party of the Zambian Prevention, Care and Treatment Partnership, Catherine Thompson.

“FHI is a leader in providing PMTCT services in Zambia, and we are delighted to be partnering with them,” said UNICEF Representative in Zambia Lotta Sylwander. “If we’re going to reach the Millennium Development Goals in Zambia, we have to scale up PMTCT and psediatric HIV care in rural areas.”

Life-saving services

The initial rollout of the programme will include antiretroviral treatment for both pregnant women and children, as well as the training of health workers, and other associated services.

“This is important because women do not go out of their area for antenatal services, so you have to offer PMTCT at every place that they go to,” said Ms. Thompson. “By expanding these services, we will be able to reach 90 per cent of people in Luapula Province.”

Children have to be eight months old to undergo the final test. Yet despite the agonizing wait, Regina remains optimistic. With the new PMTCT programme, mothers living with HIV throughout Luapula Province will have hope for their children's future.




15 April 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a UNICEF-supported project that aims to greatly reduce the transmission of HIV in rural Zambia.
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