Partners against HIV
Hospital, supported by UNICEF, mobilizes partner support for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDSLilongwe, 25 October 2007 – Gaelle Sevenier - It is early morning in the Mwanza District hospital, south of Malawi. A young couple, Mary and Devison Gaga, enter an antenatal care room with other clients, all waiting to receive integrated reproductive health services, including HIV testing. As part of the initiative to promote couples’ counseling and testing, the hospital gives priority to Mary and Devison. A blood sample is taken from their fingers. After waiting outside for less than an hour, the nurse calls them. Behind closed doors, she gives them the results. Both are HIV positive. Mary is 4 months pregnant.
Mwanza District Hospital was the first prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) site supported by UNICEF. It was also the first to mobilize spouse/partner support for this prevention. Lack of spouse and family support is one of the major obstacles to increasing uptake of PMTCT services. “Mothers who have been tested positive are often afraid to tell their husband,” explains Bright Ndaonavino, the Hospital Administrator. “ In Malawi, men are decision makers in the family. The fact that they are involved helps the pregnant women to be more likely to have treatment. Here medicine, counseling and nutrition packs supplies for HIV positive mothers are for free.”
“There is a strong political will to fight HIV/AIDS in Malawi” says UNICEF Representative Aida Girma. “There is still a lot of work to be done. UNICEF has to think universally, making sure that all children in all districts are addressed, and linking what is on the ground with the policy level. UNICEF has been actively campaigning to make sure children are given attention. We want to make sure HIV is everybody’s business.”
Out of a population of over 12 million people in Malawi, one million live with the disease. More than 80,000 children are HIV positive, and over 500,000 are orphaned because of AIDS. Every year, 30,000 newborns are infected through mother-to-child transmission. Given the magnitude of the problem in the country, UNICEF allocated 30% of its budget to the fight HIV/AIDS.
“More and more people are tested because the policies and guidelines for health workers are now in place” explains Aida Girma. “Testing is the key to both prevention and treatment. Since men take a critical role in deciding about the treatments, it is important to involve them.” Early diagnoses being crucial, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is one of UNICEF’s priorities in Malawi. Today, more than 197 Health Facility sites in the country provide PMTCT services.