A most welcome development in the fight to control HIV-AIDS Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
November 12, 2001

LAST WEEK, the medical authorities took a life-enhancing step forward with the launch of the pilot programme, aimed at reducing by 50 per cent the incidence of mother-to-child HIV-AIDS transmission. This means that approximately half the number of childbearing women, who might be infected with HIV-AIDS, will not suffer the additional distress of seeing their infants afflicted with the terrible manifestations of AIDS - the scourge of the new millennium.

Under the pilot scheme, pregnant women attending certain Maternal and Child Health Clinics in Regions Four and Six will be offered the opportunity of being tested for HIV-AIDS. Should the test prove positive, the expectant mothers, after being counselled, would each be administered a single dose of Nevirapine when they begin labour. Within 72 hours after childbirth, the babies of these mothers will also be administered a dose of Nevirapine.

Speaking last week at a ceremony to launch the pilot project, Dr Morris Edwards, Manager of the National AIDS Programme, disclosed that Nevirapine, the drug that will be administered, was donated by the drug company Boeringer Ingelheim. The medication has been shown to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 50 per cent. The women, who accept the offer to be tested for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), will be given pre-testing and post-testing counselling, he explained.

“With the majority of HIV infections occurring in developing countries, it became mandatory for the international community to seek ways in which to make the prevention of mother-to-child transmission accessible to infected women in developing countries. As a result, less expensive regimens were developed in the late 1990s,” Dr Edwards said.

He later noted that once the pilot programme is successful, it would be expanded to include other areas of the country. “We will be able to prevent approximately 200 babies a year from becoming infected with HIV. This will allow us to achieve our goal of reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 50 per cent by the year 2003,” he pointed out.

And addressing the same gathering, Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy announced that persons who have tested positive for HIV will be given AZT, the anti-retroviral drug, which has been proved to hinder the march of the HIV, thereby prolonging the life of infected persons.

It is an unfortunate reality that Guyana at this time has one of the highest HIV transmission rates in this hemisphere. When the country’s demographically small populace is taken into account, Guyana is indeed metaphorically standing on the edge of a precipice. In spite of all the public service announcements, the awareness seminars and sensitisation training workshops, HIV-AIDS is on the increase in this land, and within the next two decades, after scores of citizens are struck down in the prime of their productive years, the scope and depth of the tragedy will only then be understood.

One of the scariest aspects of this modern plague is the fact that the incubation period could stretch into years, with the infected person blithely going about his or her business, which might include unprotected sexual engagements. By the time the first serious symptoms appear, that individual may have unwittingly passed on the virus to several partners.

In some countries of sub-Saharan Africa, hundreds of thousands of children have lost one or both parents to the ravages of HIV-AIDS, and many more thousands of youngsters are anxiously watching parents in the last stages of full-blown AIDS.

A mother’s affliction seems ten times more heart-wrenching when she has infants, whose fates were sealed by the scourge before they were born. Most of these innocent infants will never experience the joys of healthy babyhood and will descend into more physical distress as their immune systems are steadily attacked and weakened by the virus.

In Guyana, thanks to the efforts of the Government and international agencies, those mothers who might be infected with HIV-AIDS now have some assurance that their innocent babies could escape the disease and death sentence that is HIV-AIDS.