Most HIV-infected pregnant women get ARVs

Kaieteur News
January 15, 2007

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Some 87 per cent of pregnant women who test positive for HIV/AIDS locally now receive treatment at the onset of delivery to prevent the passage of the virus to their offspring.

This is in comparison to the 65 per cent who accessed treatment four years ago at the commencement of the Prevention of the Mother to Child (PMTCT) Treatment Programme.

The PMTCT programme is being lauded as a raving success to date and was recently praised by Deputy United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Jimmy Kolker.

However Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy is dissatisfied with the fact that not all of the women who test positive receive treatment.

“While the figure shows a remarkable increase in the number of women who are treated at the onset of delivery, I do not believe that this is good enough.

“It might sound unrealistic, but my goal is to have every infected pregnant woman and their baby access treatment.”

He explained that the Health Ministry is addressing a number of factors that are negatively affecting the effective treatment of more women.

He pointed out that one major hindrance in this regard is the fact that in some cases, the hospital where the infected women go to deliver, is unaware of the woman's status and as such no treatment is administered.

“These women are tested at the health centres where they also receive counseling, but they hardly ever deliver at the health centre; they deliver at the hospital, which has no record of their status.”

Even though the patients are aware of their condition, the minister said they are reluctant in many cases to share this information with the staff of the hospital to which they are admitted, for fear of discrimination. It is for this very reason also, that the HIV status of the women is not listed on their clinic cards.

“The hospital staff is therefore totally unaware that these women should be treated and they have their babies without getting the requisite medication.”

He added that the ministry is working to improve the collaboration between counselors at the health centres and health care providers at the hospital so that these patients can be identified.

The minister said he is also toying with the idea that once women test positive, they are given their medication to keep with them to subsequently take to the hospital when they are about to deliver.

The PMTCT programme began in November 2002 with funding from President Bush's Emergency Plan for Fighting AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The five-year PEPFAR plan is the largest global health initiative in history undertaken by a single nation to address a single disease.

Supporting over 20 nations, PEPFAR is dedicated to mitigating the impacts of HIV/AIDS, and to placing as many eligible persons as possible on free anti-retroviral treatment (ARV's).

The PMTCT initiative involves voluntary counseling and testing of pregnant women at health centres throughout the country.

The project was initially piloted in 12 health centres, but to date has expanded to include 81 health centres in every administrative region with the exception of those in Regions One, Five and Eight.

A major step towards the realization of this was the establishment of five new health centres recently at Fort Wellington , Mahdia, Mabaruma, Ithaca and Parika.

A critical aspect of the PMTCT programme is the administration of the drug ‘Nevirapine' to mothers minutes before delivery and to the infant immediately after birth.