ZAMBIA: Pack of Drugs Helps Mothers Protect Babies

  • by Brian Moonga (lusaka)
  • Inter Press Service

The situation points back to the high HIV prevalence amongst women of reproductive age, especially in Southern Africa. Zambia is one of the countries recognised for making progress in addressing the problem.

Seventy thousand Zambian women between the ages of 15 and 40 have HIV; the health ministry says 85 thousand children are living with the virus.

Zambia faces several obstacles to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, including testing; obtaining and delivering treatment to women, particularly in rural areas where there is an acute shortage of medical personnel.

The country is addressing this in several ways, including vastly increasing the number of HIV testing facilities.

Zambia has also introduced a new HIV infection prevention tool: a new drugs kit called Mother-Baby Pack is a pre-packaged set of medicines including maternal and baby prophylactic anti-retroviral medicines in line with the World Health Organization's Guidelines. The medicine comes in a box with clear directions for when a mother should take the drugs as well as when and how to administer them during the child’s first month of life.

Despite limited resources, Zambia has been praised for progress in getting the right care to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers living with HIV. The project is being implemented in eight of the country's 76 districts.

'The proactive stance taken by Zambia’s [health] ministry of and its adherence and application of the WHO 2010 guidelines to infection prevention of children has greatly helped Zambia achieve a lot towards trying to reduce this mode of HIV transmission,' says Susan Stressor, country director for Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation. According to Stressor, the mother-baby pack has a 95 percent chance of preventing mother to child transmission of HIV, which she says is much more effective than the previous regimen.

'By distributing the pack, we will be helping mothers enjoy the opportunity to be able to breastfeed their infants without any fear at all. This pack enables the mother to take full control of her health and that of the infant,' says Stressor.

Ruth Chisonga (not her real name) is a single mother of two who earns her living buying and selling second hand clothes in Lusaka. She has been HIV-positive for five years, and is on antiretrovirals.

Chisonga is happy at the news of the new mother-baby Pack which she feels enable her to giver birth to an HIV free child next when she decides to get pregnant, but free her from the hassle of walking long distances to collect medication. 'It’s very hard for me to walk all the way. Now this kit, once it’s made available, I think it will be easier to use and will greatly lessen the chances of missing treatment schedules because I will be empowered to administer the drugs myself,' she says.

'The mother-baby packs provide mothers who are living with HIV with the drugs they need before, during and after giving birth. This will help build an HIV-free generation in Zambia,' says Stressor.

Chisonga would like to see the mother-baby pack programme scaled up country-wide to empower mothers like her.

According to the health ministry, 63 percent of pregnant women living with HIV are receiving antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service