By Janet Museveni
I write to you this week as we intensify the campaign in Kampala region to stop unborn babies from contracting HIV and keeping mothers alive. This is the least we can do as leaders to ensure that each Ugandan child is given a chance to live a healthy and productive life.
The second most common channel through which HIV is spread in Uganda after sexual transmission is from the mother to her unborn baby. The passing on of HIV from mother-to-child accounts for more than 95 percent of HIV infections in children under 5 years old. Worse still, these children have a 50 percent possibility of dying before they are 2 years old.
Elimination of Mother-to-child Transmission reduces the risk of an HIV positive mother passing HIV to her baby. This intervention has been proved to effectively reduce the number of children infected with HIV from their HIV positive mothers if the intervention is properly implemented and fully utilized.
Passing on HIV to unborn babies is preventable and we can do something about it. It is for this reason, that I joined the global crusade to assist HIV positive mothers give birth to HIV free babies. As a mother, and grandparent, I am passionate about giving each Ugandan child an opportunity to live a full life.
Because of my passion for the unborn child, I am honored to champion a campaign to eliminate the transmission of HIV to unborn babies (EMTCT). I have since worked under the auspices of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) in partnership with the Government of Uganda and our partners in development to stop new HIV infections in Uganda.
As a result of our engagement we are starting to see progress. Today, the number of children born with HIV has reduced by a half from 28,000 babies born with HIV in 2011 to 15,000 babies in 2013. These are significant gains towards HIV free babies. But we will not stop until all children are HIV free. Furthermore, nearly all (96 percent) of the estimated 100,000 HIV positive pregnant women are on free antiretroviral treatment.
I therefore appeal to all expectant mothers to test for HIV. Any pregnant woman who tests HIV positive will be given treatment and assisted to have an HIV-free baby.
I urge all of us to get tested and know our HIV status. All health services can be found at the KCCA government health facilities during and after the campaign. I also call upon all of us to come to the rally which will be held in Kololo Independence Grounds this Friday, February 28th starting at 9 am. So far, the EMTCT campaign has successfully been held in four regions and we will be moving to West Nile in March.
This campaign is a joint effort. I am working with several leaders across Uganda to call on all parents to give their unborn children a chance to live a good life by eliminating the possibility of transmitting HIV to their unborn children. We have the commitment of over 100 religious and cultural leaders from in and around Kampala who pledged to mobilize their congregations and communities to ensure that we stop the spread of HIV.
I would like to thank Kampala Capital City Authority - KCCA for spearheading the campaign in the greater Kampala region. I also acknowledge the leadership of the Ministry of Health, Uganda AIDS Commission, and several partners.
I conclude by appealing to all leaders – political, community, religious, cultural, parents, teachers, media to mobilize your people to access HIV services being offered by KCCA in health centers in and around Kampala. I also call upon you to come in big numbers to Kololo Independence Grounds for the main campaign event. We will have additional HIV services, entertainment, and I will share with all Ugandans the importance of having an HIV-free Generation.
The writer is First Lady and Minister for Karamoja affairs