By Agnes Nantambi
Key interventions have seen paediatric HIV infections through mother-to-child transmission reduce significantly over the last two years, a senior doctor has said.
The number of Ugandan HIV-positive mothers who pass on the virus to their unborn babies has reportedly dropped from 40% to 2% within a very short time.
If that does not sound cool enough, how about this: Dr. Backline Balungi Kanywa, the manager of medical care at Baylor College of Medicine children’s foundation-Uganda, says that if men were fully involved in the HIV/AIDS prevention campaign, that 2% statistic would in fact be no more!
According to Dr. Balungi, Uganda’s current performance in preventing paediatric HIV infections is, above all, greatly indebted to the introduction of the Elimination of the Mother to Child Transmission programme (EMTCT).
During a special visit to Baylor by the minister of health, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, on Friday, Dr. Balungi made it clear that the absence of interventions would have seen many children born HIV-positive.
Children at Baylor entertained Minister Rugunda during his special visit there. PHOTOs/Agnes Nantambi
Here, the minister listens keenly to Baylor's manager of medical care, Dr Backline Balungi
He also heard from positive children at the institution during his visit
Still Dr. Balungi underlined the role of the male figure in such interventions.
“If men are fully involved in the HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns, like spearheading the family testing, drug taking and adherence to drugs, the current 2% [paediatirc infections] would be history.”
‘No longer a death sentence’
The medical doctor said that women currently leading the campaign always get scared of telling their husbands about their status due to fear of abandonment. But, she added, if the men can join the campaign and stand together with their spouses, having an HIV free generation can easily be realized.
And she reiterated the now-household call for couples to always test for HIV so as to save their unborn children.
“This is a chronic disease and is no longer a death sentence. Let’s work together to have an HIV free generation,” she said.
On his part, Minister Rugunda echoed government’s commitment to supporting partners like Baylor to eliminate paediatric HIV in the country.
“With such interventions, we are already seeing positive results. Once we protect and secure the children from HIV, it will become easier for us to address the HIV transmission gaps within the older population and better programme for those children that are already infected,” he said.
How does one prepare 'ekitoobero' (balanced diet meal) for malnourished HIV-positive children? The minister takes notes
He also seizes an opportunity to feed some of the kids with the special meal
The minister admitted that as much as they have scaled up services for the adult population, the country had lagged behind in addressing the prevention, care and treatment needs of children.
According to Dr. Balungi, Baylor currently has approximately 6,500 clients among whom 70% are children under the age of 15.
The children, she said, acquired the virus from their mothers through the mother to child transmission.
“We have mothers who bring children to the hospital because they are sick and these get to know their status their and then.”
The medic also revealed that 10% of the patients admitted at Baylor are diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), and that 60% of TB patients are HIV positive, with TB being the number one killer among the patients.
Dr. Doreen Male Birabwa, the deputy executive director at Mulago Hospital, says that pediatric treatment is no longer a burden at the referral facility due to the presence of Baylor which she says is a centre of excellence for paediatric treatment.
Grace Nassali, a mother of three HIV-positive children told New Vision that seeking treatment at Baylor College of Medicine has restored hope ever since she lost her husband.