Group to expand fight against mother to child HIV transmission
Stabroek News
February 2, 2004

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Guyana's Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV programme is being expanded and will see resources provided to the five major hospitals in Guyana.

Family Health Organisa-tion (FHI) with funding being provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will implement the new initiative. This was announced last week by Director of USAID, Mike Sarhan, who was speaking at the official opening of the FHI office on the fifth floor of the DDL building located at 44 High Street.

According to Sarhan, the expansion will ensure that additional women of unknown HIV status are reached, and the transmission of HIV from mother to child reduced.

Acting Country Director of FHI, Bob Hollister, said that the group will work with the staff of the maternal wards of the hospitals to provide rapid HIV testing, counselling, anti-retroviral (ARV) drug therapy and follow-up care to mothers and babies. He said this would allow the health ministry to rapidly provide quality services to many more women, babies and their families.

Sarhan noted that Guyana is one of 14 countries to benefit from President George Bush's International Mother and Child HIV prevention initiative which was launched in September 2003.

The US$3.4 million programme in Guyana, he said, has begun enabling women throughout the country to access voluntary HIV counselling and testing services (VCT), and if they test positive, to receive drugs to prevent infecting their newborns. It also includes building stronger health care systems so that as many women as possible can be reached.

The Bush initiative was built on Guyana's existing pilot programme. Guyana's PMTCT programme was launched in November of 2001 and the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) and the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Department of the Ministry of Health are responsible for the programme.

The USAID director noted that the overall purpose of the US Government support to Guyana's PMTCT strategy is to reduce current rates of transmission of HIV from mother to child by 50% by 2008 and to continue to assist the government in expanding and strengthening the existing effort.

He said that to date over 350 women have been offered services at 12 sites. "We have also collaborated with the Ministry of Health to develop manuals for PMTCT at antenatal clinics and delivery settings. In addition, approximately 100 health workers have been trained."

Hollister said FHI is a large research, education, and service organisation with over 700 employees and programmes in more than 60 countries. He said that the focus of its work is in reproductive health, research, and HIV/AIDS.

According to Hollister, the project will support the establishment of 32 PMTCT service delivery sites. And in order to deliver quality services it will train between 200 and 400 health workers in counselling, testing, and care giving. It will also assure that the clinics have the equipment and supplies that are needed.

Also speaking at the opening was Acting Minister of Health, Dr Jennifer Westford who once again voiced government's concern about the country's professionals being recruited by agencies in Canada and the USA. Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy, Betty McCutcheon also spoke at the opening.