In Iran, EU-UNICEF partnership helps prevent HIV/AIDS transmission
“In this hospital, we have on average 400 to 500 deliveries per month, in total about 5,000 per year. Of this number, one third are Afghans and for all of them, we make sure they are tested for HIV during pregnancy or just before labour."
In Iran, EU-UNICEF partnership helps prevent HIV/AIDS transmission from Afghan pregnant mothers to their newborns in Iran
On this cool spring day, the main waiting hall of Mahdiyeh Hospital is populated with many women who are either pregnant or, having just delivered, hold their newborn and wait to be called into the doctor’s room. Due to its strategic location in Shoush Square, a poor area in the south of Tehran, this hospital hosts every day many Afghan refugee women and children.
Ms Mandana Tira is an expert at Iran’s Ministry of Health, Treatment and Medical Education who works closely with UNICEF on the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT). As part of her quality control visits to different governmental health centres on PMTCT implementation across all provinces, she is visiting Mahdiyeh Hospital to receive feedback from health providers and update them on the latest standards and guidelines on testing pregnant mothers for HIV/AIDS. In her discussions with the team, she refers to some common errors while doing HIV rapid test such as mishandling the finger while testing, massaging the fingertip too hard before testing, and miscarrying the rapid HIV kits, all of which could adversely impact the result of the HIV rapid test.
According to the Ministry of Health’s protocol, all pregnant mothers, including Afghan refugee women, referring to Public Health Care Centres should be tested on HIV/AIDS in their 4th to 6th weeks of pregnancy, and for those who are not tested for any reason or are classified as high-risk groups, the test will be repeated in the second semester. If found positive, mothers are then placed on appropriate treatment free of charge so that their own health can be maintained, and their babies can be born free of HIV/AIDS.
A hospital official points out to Ms Tira: “In this hospital, we have on average 400 to 500 deliveries per month, in total about 5,000 per year. Of this number, one third are Afghans and for all of them, we make sure they are tested for HIV during pregnancy or just before labour.”
Mozhgan is a 19-year old Afghan pregnant mother, who is in the final stages of preparing to go into the labour room and deliver her baby. She has come from Pakdasht in the suburbs of Tehran to this hospital. “As soon as I was admitted to the hospital with labour pain, I was asked to show my pregnancy tests including HIV/AIDS, but because I didn’t have my lab results with me, they tested me on HIV/AIDS, the result has not come yet,” observes Mozhgan, as her baby’s heartbeat, amplified by monitoring devices, echoes around the room.
PMTCT is part of the National Health Reform Plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran. UNICEF has supported Iran’s PMTCT programme since its launch in 2014 and continues to assist the Ministry of Health, Treatment and Medical Education in its endeavours to expand service coverage. Expanding PMTCT services is important due to the steadily increasing incidence of HIV among women and insufficient general awareness about HIV.
Thanks to the EU’s generous donation, UNICEF can now support the Ministry of Health to provide and expand quality PMTCT services with a specific focus on disadvantaged populations and areas including Afghan refugees.
In the delivery ward of Mahidyeh Hospital, a nurse comes to tighten the baby heartbeat monitoring belt around Mozhgan’s belly and moves the sensor to a better position. She then takes a closer look at Mozhgan’s file and explains to her: “We have just received the results of your HIV test from the lab, fortunately, it is negative.”