By Catherine Mwesigwa Kizza
Uganda started its Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV program in 2000. However, twelve years later, 65 babies are being born daily infected with HIV, 80,000 children living with HIV are not accessing ARVs though they are readily available in the country.
“Two years from today, half of these children will be dead if not identified and started on treatment,” said Sarah Kataike, the Minister of State for Health, General Duties at the opening of the 6th National Peadiatric HIV conference in Kampala, on Wednesday this week.
Kataike attributed this tragedy to the fact that interventions have not been scaled up to achieve public health impact.
“To achieve elimination of HIV in children- at least 90% of women and their children should access these services,” she said.
The new Uganda AIDS Indicators’ Survey 2011, HIV prevalence has increased to 7.3%. There are 130,000 new HIV infections in the country every year.
HIV prevalence is highest among women at 8.3% while it is 6.1% among men. Urban women have a higher prevalence at 11% than their rural counterparts at 8%. However there are no urban-rural differences among the men.
Kataike noted that Mother to Child Transmission of HIV was the second most common cause of infection but added that World Health Organisation had provided evidence that ARV given early to HIV positive pregnant women and throughout the breastfeeding period, eliminate HIV in children.
It is for this reason that the government is rolling out a new strategy code-named Option B+ in an effort to eliminate Mother to Child Transmission of HIV by 2015.
Launching the strategy at the conference, First Lady Janet Museveni called for a return to the multi sectoral approach Uganda used to implement the ABC strategy of Abstinence, Faithfulness in marriage and Condom use in the 1990s.
The strategy successfully brought down HIV prevalence however, the First Lady said, it was met with resistance.
“Many voices stopped us. They said that by promoting abstinence and faithfulness, we were not being practical. The loud noise could not allow us to go on,” she said adding, “if we had not stopped we would have had an affordable way of preventing our children from infection.”
She said that we now have to learn the hard way.
“If HIV is stopped in families, children will be safe,” she said.
Mrs Museveni emphasised the importance of involving all stakeholders to achieve success.
“There was a time when we were leading the struggle. We should not get to 2015 with HIV prevalence in Uganda going up and not down, she said.
Musa Bungudu, the UNAIDs country director said development partners were joining Uganda to get it to zero HIV infections but he noted there had to be zero corruption to progress.
He noted that Uganda has made many achievements but it is the only country in Sub Saharan Africa and only one of two in Africa where new infections are going up.
He recommended the direct implementation of Option B+ as a way of curbing new infections among babies born to infected mothers.
Option B+ is a regimen where all HIV positive pregnant mothers are given ARVs from three and a half months of pregnancy regardless of their CD4 count, throughout pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding and for life. The babies are also given ARVs up to six weeks.
The new regimen is recommended by WHO to eliminate MTCT of HIV.
“It is easy to administer,” said Hon Kataike. “A mother will take one pill a day from pregnancy through life,” she added.
She revealed that the US government had provided funds to support the programme for the first year.
Hon Kataike underscored the importance of the households and communities in achieving health. She noted the critical role men played and that they needed to be brought on board.
She appealed to the education sector to ensure that infected children are not stigmatised in school.
Speaking at the same function, the US ambassador, H.E. Scott DeLiSi announced that US had increased funding for PMTCT by USD25million bringing up its contribution to USD40million.
“Our commitment is deep, strong and enduring. The people of the United States of America will keep the commitment to Uganda,” he said.