Eliminating paediatric HIV, Aids

Margaret Paulo, 34, is a mother who found out she was HIV positive in August 2010. She was four months pregnant and had decided to get tested during her first antenatal visit.

Her husband got concerned and accompanied her to the next visit for a test; he also tested positive.

This was a bitter pill to swallow for the family, especially when they considered the high chances of transmitting the virus to the unborn child.

However, with support from the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) trained health workers, Paulo said they were counselled on living positively, safe sex and prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT).

Fortunately for them, through the efforts of the foundation and its partners, Ministry of Health had already initiated the provision of antenatal care to HIV positive women in 2008.

As a result, HIV positive pregnant women in Malawi now receive more efficacious antiretroviral medications earlier in pregnancy, significantly reducing the risk of mother to child transmission of HIV.

Since then, Paulo who comes from Msakaminga Village, T/A Kamenyagwaza in Dedza was also put on cotrimoxazole to fight infections caused by protozoa and some opportunistic infections.

On January 7 2011, she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy who tested HIV negative six months later. She breastfed her baby until he was one year old.

Paulo is one of the 367 000 pregnant women who have benefited from the foundation’s PMTCT services.

Since its inception in 2001, the foundation has pioneered HIV prevention by providing critical technical support and expertise to build the capacity of Ministry of Health supported health care systems and facilities.

EGPAF also increases access to comprehensive and well-integrated PMTCT and HIV care and treatment services for the women, children and families in Malawi. In light of this, EGPAF decided to extend Dedza District Hospital’s Family Health Unit (FHU).

According to the organisation’s director in Malawi Patricia Mbuta, her organisation was concerned about the welfare of women and their children who visit the hospital.

“The FHU could not accommodate many patients, hence women were having antenatal classes outside in harsh weather conditions,” Mbuta says.

Learning under a tree negatively affected Paulo who said her husband stopped accompanying her.

“The FHU was small and could not accommodate our group, we were having lessons outside in the sun, which would sometimes be cancelled due to harsh weather conditions,” Paulo says.

With a smile on her face, she says the new facility will encourage many couples to attend the lessons together.

Mbuta says the extended facility has created a favourable environment for mothers and their partners and that it now accommodates 110 clients from 50 before the extension..

“It will require a lot of resources to have babies born HIV negative from positive mothers, this is why we are seeking new partners,” Mbuta says.

In 2011, the organisation partnered with Standard Bank, which invested K4 million in extending the FHU.

The 2010 UNAIDS Report on the Global Aids Epidemic of 2010 says out of 920 000 people living with HIV in Malawi, 120 000 are children under the age of 15.

Each day, nearly 1 200 children worldwide are infected with HIV because their mothers do not have access to the medicines they need.

It is in the face of this that EGPAF decided to initiate one of Malawi’s first programmes to provide PMTCT services.

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