As regional campaigns for elimination of mother-to-child HIV/Aids transmission (EMTCT) peaked in West Nile last weekend, government said it would not settle for anything less than an HIV-free generation.
Speaking at a breakfast meeting at Arua State lodge, hours before the main function at Boma grounds, Health Minister Ruhakana Rugunda revealed that the country should be HIV-free by 2020.
“We are moving in the right direction. In the next six years, we should have an HIV free society,” Dr Rugunda said.
He added that EMTCT fills a major missing gap in the maternal and newborn health (MNH) programme because previously, mothers would go for antenatal services –without necessarily taking an HIV test.
The EMTCT campaigns in the districts of Ntungamo, Lira, Tororo, Napak and Kampala advocate a reduction of the risk of HIV transmission from infected mothers to their babies during pregnancy, labour, delivery and/or breastfeeding.
Among other things, the campaign ensures that every pregnant woman gets antenatal care at least four times and ensures that pregnant women who are HIV positive are initiated on lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).
West Nile was the last region to undertake the implementation of EMTCT. Kicking off activities in August last year, the region undertook to increase EMTCT performance by 10 per cent monthly.
And according to the West Nile region EMTCT status report, the campaign has already registered some positive results. Prior to the campaign, average antenatal attendance was 8,644 pregnant women per month. But following intensified sensitisation and demand creation, the proportion increased to 9,361 by the end of March. Women counseled and tested for HIV clocked 10,275 by the end of April.
Of these, 148 pregnant women were found to be HIV positive – with the proportion of positive babies standing at 8.3 per cent by December, a figure that went down to 4.3 per cent in May.
The report, however, revealed that while the number of women going for antenatal services for the first time was high, it kept dwindling for the second, third and fourth visits –with mothers only returning to give birth. Also, the proportion of male partners escorting their wives for antenatal services and HIV testing were far below the national target of 50 per cent –with districts like Nebbi standing at 21 per cent.
“We need to look at HIV in the social context. When you talk of EMTCT, it is like we are holding mothers responsible and victimizing them for HIV transmission to the children. Where do we leave the men who are stakeholders in child-bearing?” said Dr Paul Awil Onek, the DHO of Napak district.
“We should be talking of elimination of parent-to-child transmission, not elimination of mother-to-child transmission.”
Joyce Ajio Agupinir, the nursing officer (midwifery) of Arur-Bondo health centre III in Yumbe district, said pregnant women usually fell off the antenatal programme because of lack of support from their husbands.
“Most women in the rural areas depend on their husbands for provision. If they are not providing them with transport, you won’t see them,” Ajio said.
Alice Candiru, the nursing officer (midwifery) of Maracha-Oluvu health centre III, said men needed special attention at antenatal clinics.
“Men are usually busy people. If you don’t attend to them urgently, they will walk away. Pregnant women can listen to you from morning to evening –but you cannot delay a man,” Candiru said.
Officials say that at least 1,561,489 million people are living with HIV, 51 per cent of them women and 12 per cent children.