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EMTCT: A lifeline for Ugandan HIV positive mothers and their babies

By Kutloano Leshomo

Each time Shamim Namusoke looks at her two month old baby, she breaks into a smile. Shamim is a mother of three, who enrolled in the EMTCT programme when she became pregnant. She was enrolled on Option B+ treatment to prevent the transmission of HIV to her unborn baby. When the baby reached six weeks, Shamim had to take the baby for DNA PCR testing to determine her status. Thankfully, the test showed the baby was HIV negative free, and that is the reason she smiles. Two of Shamim’s other children are also HIV negative.

“I got a lot of support from health workers and I ensured that I ate very well before taking medicine. I never suffered any side effects,” she added.

On 31 July 2015, Shamim, along with 40 other families under the Elimination of Mother to Child HIV Transmission Programme (eMTCT) had the opportunity to meet Uganda’s First Lady Janet Museveni at Maru Apesu Village in Soroti District in central Uganda. The occasion was the launch of an EMTCT campaign organised by Ministry of Health and the Office of the First Lady with support from UNICEF and other partners.

Mrs Museveni is the national champion for eMTCT, driving the engagement of leadership at national and subnational levels including Male Partners. She has vigorously mobilised Ugandans of all levels to lead responsible lives and be faithful to one another. “It is possible to defeat HIV/AIDS and have a generation that is free from HIV” she said when launching the campaign in Soroti. She called on everyone to become a champion against HIV/AIDS and ensure that no child is born with HIV. Mrs Museveni also highlighted that if couples remained faithful to each other, Uganda could beat HIV/AIDS.

Before the eMTCT launch, the Office of the First Lady organised a national stakeholder’s meeting in which achievements, challenges and lessons learnt in the 8 districts of Teso region were presented by Michael Igune District Health Officer Bukedea district. The 8 districts are Amuria, Katakwi, Soroti, Kaberamaido, Serere, Ngora, Kumi and Bukedea. The meeting also discussed barriers and best practices that could be adopted to scale up the eMTCT programme.

It is estimated that 1.4 million people in Uganda are HIV positive, 12 per cent of them children under 15 years of age. Mother to child transmission is the second most common way of spreading the virus, accounting for 18 percent of all new infections.

UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health and other Implementing Partners in 37 districts at high risk to implement the EMTCT programme including paediatric services. By the first quarter of 2015, a total 140,795 (23%) of 622,949 pregnant women in the 37 districts tested for HIV, with 10,909 (26%) of the infected pregnant and breastfeeding women on ARVs and supported to prevent infection of their newborn.

Under Option B+, all pregnant and breastfeeding women are entitled to lifelong treatment regardless of their CD4 count. This means that they are enrolled into treatment when they are still strong and can remain healthy for a very long time. If all pregnant women followed the example of Shamim, testing before they are pregnant and enrolling in treatment, then eMTCT will truly be a lifeline, and indeed Uganda could have an HIV free generation.




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