HIV activists are protesting the current method of implementing option B+, which is aimed at preventing the Mother to Child HIV Transmission-PMTCT. Last year, ministry of health rolled out option B+ as one of the strategies to stem mother to child HIV transmission.
The new strategy involves enrolling expectant mothers living with HIV on ARV treatment beginning at the antenatal clinic, which continues throughout their lives. Option B+, which was first tested in Malawi, can also protect the woman’s partner from HIV infection and reduces the chances of resistance.
However, whereas HIV activists agree option B+ has added advantages compared to other PMTCT methods that have been in existence, they says expectant mothers are being enrolled without their consent.
The activists claim that option B+ has turned out to be mandatory as opposed to the Voluntary Testing and Counseling-VCT, which Uganda has implemented overtime. There is also fear about the long term effect of mothers being exposed to the lifelong ART treatment.
Dorothy Namutamba, the Programme Officer International Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS Eastern Africa (ICWEA) says expectant mothers have virtually been denied the chance to choose on which option to be enrolled.
Besides she says women are not adequately being counseled before being initiated on the lifelong treatment.
According to Namutamba, option B+ is also discriminatory because of the non involvement of husbands whose wives have tested HIV positive. So far more than 27,000 expectant mothers have been enrolled on Option B+ to 20,000 who are on ART for their own health.
Dr. Geoffrey Esiru, the Coordinator of Prevention of Mother to child transmission of HIV ministry of health denies that Option B+ is mandatory.
Esiru says women should be encouraged to opt for Option B+ because of its advantages compared to the other methods, which only involves enrollment of women based on their CD4 count.
He says the lack of CD4 count machines across the country had greatly affected the enrollment of some people living with HIV/ Aids on ARTS.
Musa Bungudu, the country coordinator UNAIDS says HIV counseling should be voluntary and denies claims that women were being forced on the treatment. Bugundu insists the Option B+ type of treatment is ongoing in most developed countries, whose government can afford.
Bugundu major concern is how a country like Uganda is to sustain such treatment especially when all medicines for treating persons living with HIV/AIDS are externally funded.
Government according to Bugundu plans to put over two hundred forty thousand Ugandans on ARV treatment. The American government through its President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR/Emergency Plan) will fund treatment for 190,000 people while another 50,000 will partly be sponsored by the Global fund on HIV, TB and Malaria.