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Breastfeeding confusion for HIV mothers

HIV positive mothers in Uganda are not sure whether they can safely breastfeed their babies as new advice from the World Health Organisation fails to reach them.

HIV-positive mothers who are taking antiretroviral therapy (ARVs) can breastfeed their babies for as long as a year without infecting them, say new recommendations from the organisation.

For the past 10 years, Uganda’s policy has been to advise HIV positive mothers to breast feed for just three months.

People phoning into a television talk show about the benefits of breastfeeding have highlighted the confusion among HIV-positive mothers about the new recommendations, according to Inter Press Service reports. Many mothers said they were now unclear over how best to protect their babies from HIV infection.

"I am now confused," said Maria Sebadukka, an HIV-positive mother, "we are being given conflicting information on how to feed our children. Some health workers say we should not breastfeed. But now you say we can?" she asked.

"I am HIV-positive and my child is negative. Should I start breastfeeding her now?" another caller asked.

At last month’s 2010 HIV Conference, the World Health Organisation (WHO) passed new recommendations saying HIV-positive mothers can breastfeed for as long as a year so long as their babies are given ARVs. This has been shown to give babies the best protection against getting HIV from their mothers.

Dr Elizabeth Madraa, at Uganda’s ministry of health said that six to 12 months of breast feeding is enough to give the baby the immunity it needs. But swapping between breast and bottle feeding is not advised because the baby’s gut is vulnerable to infection.

But Madraa admits that it may be hard to convince some mothers about the change of advice. "People are not ready for the new guidelines. We really need to come out and sensitise pregnant HIV-positive mothers very well on these new recommendations because they are still not yet convinced," she said.

"Many are still very scared of infecting their children,” Dr Lydia Mungherera from The AIDS Support Organisation agreed. “Many are not yet aware of these new guidelines so this needs a lot of awareness raising and the training of health workers, including midwives," she said.

New policies are not publicised in Uganda as much as they need to be, said Dr Lydia Mungherera: "Community nurses and midwives should be trained and any new policies should be quickly circulated."

Hayley attribution