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Mother and baby packs will save thousands from HIV

New mums with Aids and HIV will get mother and baby packs containing Aids drugs and antibiotics in a new scheme to prevent mums passing the virus to their babies.

The drugs in the home-use pack are colour-coded so that even mums who can’t read and write can use them.

The packs are part of a larger intervention programme dubbed Maisha, which translates as ‘life’ set up by Kenya’s government and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).

It aims to help wipe out mother-to-child transmission of HIV by the year 2013 especially in the west African country’s Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, where about half of Kenya’s HIV positive children live.

It is a significant step towards our common goal of virtually eliminating mother to child transmission in Kenya," said Unicef’s Antony Lake.

Half of Kenya’s children living with HIV die before celebrating their second birthday because of a lack of access to treatment.

"The survival chances of a child born with HIV are much higher if anti-retroviral treatment is initiated soon after birth," said Mr Lake.

"The rolling out of this pack in Kenya marks the beginning of a phased implementation in four countries, including Cameroon, Lesotho and Zambia," he said.

The Maisha programme is planned to run through mid-2011 and will be monitored by Unicef to make sure the packs are well-supplied, distributed and accepted by HIV positive mums.

Health workers in antenatal clinics will hand out the packs to pregnant women living with HIV, but do not yet need anti-retroviral treatment for their own health.

The initiative aims to reach pregnant women who have tested positive for HIV, but who might not otherwise return to a clinic after their diagnosis. Boosting the number of deliveries with by skilled birth attendants is another goal, as the project promises incentives to health facilities that improve their performance and reach especially in cut-off communities.

Kenya’s adult HIV rate is actually falling, but every year, there are still some 22,000 new infections in babies through mother-to-child transmission. Overall, some 1.4 million people are living with HIV/Aids in Kenya, including some 81,000 pregnant women.

Similar packs were launched in Lesotho and Zambia earlier this year, and experts found that the focus must be on helping healthcare workers make HIV positive mums see the packs as socially acceptable.

Kenya has made great strides in scaling up its prevention of mother to child transmissions over the past years with services being offered in 4,000 out of the country’s 4,500 antenatal care centres.

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