Ministry plans to slash HIV mother-to-child transmission
Anti-retroviral drugs for mothers, newborns

Stabroek News
July 29, 2000

In its effort to reduce mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in Guyana, the Ministry of Health proposes to offer HIV testing to all women attending antenatal clinics; anti-retroviral drugs to mothers testing positive and their newborns, where necessary, and replacement therapy if the mothers choose this.

Pre-test, post-test and support counselling would also be provided to the pregnant women.

According to a report from the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), the ministry has developed a draft prevention programme aimed at reducing MTCT by 50% by the end of December 2002.

The statement said that using the most recent estimates of HIV prevalence among antenatal women in Guyana, it was likely that some 1,400 HIV positive women were giving birth each year and if a transmission rate of 28% was used then there could be "approximately 400 HIV infected babies born each year." However, the report noted that this was a rough estimate as the incidence rate applied to the entire population and the rate of transmission used applied to the Caribbean and not specifically Guyana.

The proposed MTCT prevention programme would seek to reinforce the importance of education as the means of ensuring healthy sexual lifestyles and strengthen the reproductive health programmes including family planning.

Giving an update of the current HIV/AIDS situation in the country, government's response and some of the collaborative efforts by the donor community and non-governmental organisations, the NAPS statement also announced that the World AIDS Campaign 2000 would be launched under the theme 'Men Can Make a Difference' on August 5, with a men's march.

The government, according to the report, has also developed a number of strategies to curb the overall spread of the virus which include the drafting of a new three-year national strategic plan for STI/HIV/AIDS. This plan has five major components--Programme Management, Monitoring and Evaluation, Information, Education and Communication (IEC), Care and Support and Special Programmes. The overall cost to implement the plan was estimated at $450 million.

The administration has also re-established the National AIDS Committee (NAC), as an independent advisory body which reports to the Minister of Health and several sub-committees.

Other work being effected by NAPS included the coordination of the IEC element of the national AIDS programme using various strategies. Some of these include using implementing agencies to conduct educational programmes aimed at youths, emphasising peer education. Other areas targeted include groups and events such as holidays, public activities and celebrations.

The report also noted that there was a collaborative effort to target female commercial sex workers in Georgetown to assess their risk factors for HIV. Efforts were also underway to target various communities with the help of USAID, which has funded six NGOs to work on a HIV/AIDS awareness project targeting out-of-school youths, those on the street, those in organised groups, mini-bus drivers and conductors in Linden, Georgetown and New Amsterdam.

There are also programmes to respond to the increasing demand for care with NAPS initiating nationwide sensitisation for all health care providers, starting with those in the public health sector. Care and support is also being offered to persons living with HIV/AIDS and those affected.

The report also listed efforts to expand the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) initiative already in effect in two regions of the country, to make it easier for the majority of the population to access its services.

Future plans of the secretariat include the review of the National Surveillance System to enhance its efficiency which would help in improving the generation of data for information planning.

Apart from this the Joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Theme Group provides support to the national programme in strategic planning and coordination. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and CAREC were also working to strengthen the capacity of the national programme in order to widen the response to the epidemic, the report said.

According to the latest statistics from the Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinic, for last year there were 325 cases of AIDS; 193 males and 132 females.

As regards HIV surveillance, the GUM clinic data lists commercial sex workers as having the highest prevalence 45% during a study done in 1997. The next highest group at 21% was identified as males who visited the GUM clinic with sexually transmitted infections between 1992-1995. Pregnant women who attended the antenatal clinics made up the next highest total with 5% - 7.1% in 1995 and blood donors with the lowest at 3.2% in of 1997.

The figures show that as at the end of 1999, the total number of reported AIDS cases stood at 1,602, which was said to be equivalent to 200 persons in every 100,000 of the local population.

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