By Ijeoma UKAZU
One way to eliminate HIV transmission from pregnant women to their unborn child is by counselling, administering antiretroviral treatment and follow-up.
According to the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF acceleration of treatment for all pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV is still needed to achieve elimination of new infections among children.
To this end, the Centre for Integrated Health Programs, CIHP in partnership with the Lagos State government is increasing efforts to provide HIV prevention programmes to pregnant women in local communities across the State.
In Mushin Local Government Area, Lagos State, Palm Avenue Primary Health Centre is worthy of emulation as it has achieved zero mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
At the commendation ceremony held recently in Lagos, some HIV positive women who spoke with The Abuja Inquirer were elated at the job the PHC is doing to ensure that pregnant women living with HIV adhere to their drugs and keep to all medical instructions to ensure a healthy mother and child.
“They monitor us with calls. If we do not come for our drugs, we get a series of text messages telling us the importance of the drugs to our child. Even the viral load test that is done every six-month, once it is time for us to undergo the test and we are not available, the health workers do call until the test is done,” says Madam Ronke, a petty trader.
Continuing, she said, “I did exclusive breastfeeding for my first children -twins for six months. I also ensure that they do not miss their drugs (morning and night dosage). My twins are almost three years old now and are negative. I am hopeful, optimistic that the baby in my womb will also come out negative as I do not joke with my drugs.”
For Quadri “I suspect my being infected was from my make-up business because I use a razor blade often to shave the eyebrows of my customers and most times there is a tear in the skin area.”
Mrs Quadri, a nursing mother, pointed out that taking her drugs religiously has kept her healthy, “My husband is also HIV positive but thankfully, our baby boy came out negative.”
She said at the facility, the health workers especially, the mentor mother ensures that all HIV positive pregnant women adhere to treatment, appointments and drugs. “They disturb us with calls and messages for drug collection and tests. Palm Avenue PHC is really doing well.”
Speaking with The Abuja Inquirer, the mentor mother of Palm Avenue PHC Mushin, Mrs Chika Nnoruka, who received an award for excellence owing to the great job at the facility said, “So far, most of the results coming out has impressed me. In this health centre, I can say we have achieved 99 percent prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV. So far, I have not seen anyone having a positive baby. That is a pass mark.
“Though, it has not been easy tracking these HIV positive mothers, counselling and putting them through the right channel with a constant reminder that being infected with the virus is not a death sentence.”
Thankfully, Nnoruka said, “These mothers follow through the counselling process and adhere to their drugs. Once they give birth, their babies are given prophylaxis for any viral load infection and after six weeks of birth, we call the mothers for the Dried Blood Spots, DBS test is carried out on their children.”
In his address, the Medical Officer of Health, Mushin Local Government Area, Dr. Wale Akeredolu commended all partners for their commitment in ensuring that HIV positive mothers in Palm Avenue are living healthy and having negative babies, stating that, “Come next year, with continuous hard work and dedication, Mushin will still have the award of zero mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Integrated Health Programs Nigeria, Dr. Bolanle Oyeledun, said the organization is taking prevention from mother to child transmission of HIV to the communities to help Nigeria eliminate vertical transmission of the virus.
She said, the programme is funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR -an initiative of the United States government supporting states including Lagos to roll Prevention of Mother-To-Child, PMTCT of HIV services very quickly targeting all the 20 LGAs in the state.
She said, “One of the things we are doing is to take stock programmatically. In Nigeria, we have moved very far over 1.3 million people on HIV treatment which means that we are preventing many infections but it also helps us to know where the gaps are. We are reaching more people but then we are not reaching many pregnant women as we should be reaching.
“There is a big gap of almost not reaching over 50 percent of HIV positive women who are pregnant. One of the interventions that we know work perfectly well is that when HIV positive pregnant women are put on antiretroviral treatment, their chances of passing on the virus to their children become almost zero. We would do better and make sure we bring more women into the programme.”
While congratulating Palm Avenue PHC for achieving zero of zero HIV transmission from mother to child, the Chief Executive Officer, Lagos State AIDS Control Agency, LSACA, Dr. Monsurat Adeleke said, “This is an epic achievement and has shown that Lagos is still blazing the trail while looking forward to a sustained collaboration.
In her remarks, the Country Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Dr. Mary Boyd said, “Our ability to provide prevention of mother to child transmission services to women who seek such care in the health facilities has helped us have some incredible win in Nigeria. This is evident WITH Palm Avenue. I commend all who have made this work.
“While we celebrate, our job is not done yet. In Nigeria, every year, there is an estimation of over eight million pregnancies and are attended to outside health facilities in places we are not currently offering these services as a result; we are not able to support those mothers.”
Boyd said, unfortunately, Nigeria ranks one of the highest maternal to child transmission rates of HIV globally. That statistics has to change. Taking one site, LGA and State at a time is our mission.
According to the CDC Country Director, “Two years ago, the US government supported Nigeria to kick off HIV treatment surge and Lagos state was among states that was flagged off. Two years later, over 120,000 people were put on treatment and now live healthy lives and are not transmitting infections to their partners. In Nigeria, out of 1.8 million people living with HIV, we now have over 1.6 million people benefiting from lifesaving treatment. That is a win.”
Also speaking, Commissioner for Health, Lagos state, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said, the government will continue to support campaigns to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV, “We are trying as much as possible to continue with testing vulnerable people and ramp up the number of people who are living with HIV in the state for easy identification. Once that is done, we can give treatment that will reduce the amount of HIV in their body and prevent transmission to another person. That way, we interrupt the opportunity for the virus to move from one person to another. Either by virtue of mother to child or blood transfusion or sexual intercourse with their partners.”