The south African country, Lesotho is making massive leaps in preventing mothers passing HIV to their babies through a new clinic scheme.
At eight months pregnant, the trip to Pilot Health Clinic in Berea district, for her first antenatal check-up leaves HIV positive Malekena George exhausted. And because her five-hour trek get make the appointment was so difficult, it may be her last visit. Her first child died at just 13 months, probably because of HIV, and the Ministry of Health is trying to prevent her second baby being born with HIV.
One in four people in Lesotho are living with HIV and at about 23 per cent, the infection rate is one of the highest in the world. In 2007, the country started a massive push to improve its prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Backed by the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF) it’s goal was to ensure that every clinic in the country could offer HIV testing and treatment. It became one of the first countries in the region to let nurses give anti-retroviral (ARV) treatments, which vastly widened access to treatment, especially in cut-off parts of the country where there are fewer doctors.
Makalena George leaves the Pilot Health Clinic with her new 'Mother to Baby Pack’, which contains ARV drugs and antibiotics. But still there are major challenges and many women like her, are likely only to visit the clinic once while they are pregnant. This is a common problem across Africa. While ARV drugs mean the baby is less likely to be born free of the virus, giving HIV-positive mothers with the treatment is tough because of poverty, and lack of transport. To try and tackle the problem UNICEF and the World Health Organisation are handing out a colour-coded box for new mums to take home. The pack clearly separates the ARV drugs and the antibiotics according to when they need to be taken. "We had to take advantage of the first antenatal visit," said UNICEF Maternal Health Expert, Blandinah Motaung. "In case a woman delivers at home, she will have that package with her." "The expectation is that with better adherence to the treatment and more focus on helping mothers to exclusively breastfeed for six months, we can further reduce the transmission rate to less than five per cent," she said.
The average life expectancy in Lesotho is 41for men and 40 for women, according to the CIA World Factbook. The government has also started a scheme called "Know your status” aiming to test everyone in the country for HIV who wants to be tested. The program is funded by the Clinton Foundation and started in June 2006.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children