PAN-African Positive Women’s Coalition Zimbabwe (PAPWC-ZIM) national coordinator, Tendai Westerhof says Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (EMTC) programing should now prioritise partner support more if the battle against mother and parent to child transmission of HIV is to be won.
By Michael Gwarisa
Speaking at the recently held EMTCT Workshop in the Harare, Westerhof said unlike in the past where EMTCT programs only targeted women, pregnant and lactating mothers, engaging men and fathers would also help in reducing the risk infecting the child during and post pregnancy.
So what are the top gaps to EMTCT in Zimbabwe? From our eyes as women living with HIV, Mother to Child Transmission and Parent to Child Transmission of HIV are still the major contributors and the biggest challenge to EMTCT. We realise that when we talk about these things, the knowledge level is still very low especially among couples and among men in the grassroots communities.
“The link between knowledge of HIV, Mother to Child Transmission and EMTC and uptake of EMTCT services and also knowledge of HIV status is vital in order for pregnant women to access the appropriate treatment and care for themselves and their infants. There is still confusion on exclusive breastfeeding among couples and most do not even know what to do with their little ones after the first months of exclusive breastfeeding would have lapsed,” said Westerhof.
She added that there was still a lot family and societal stigma related to HIV and engaging couples in the subject of HIV would help shake off the stigma and discrimination women suffer at the hands of family members and society.
“You realize that at times a woman is told that she is positive at the hospital and for her to go home and tell her husband and family usually becomes a very big challenge. At times even for her to exclusively breastfeed may also attract some serious stigma and this may even make her stop exclusively feeding her baby breast milk for six months.
“These factors deter women from visiting health centers to receive their Antiretroviral (ARvs) drugs and other services such as counseling. This also increases the HIV burden on women and lack of partner support is also a contributing factor. This is why we are saying next time we meet, lets invite couples and not women only to these platforms to ensure that even men are well versed with these issues and they will support their partners in the journey to eliminate transmission of HIV from mothers and from parents.”
Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), National Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and Pediatric HIV Care and Treatment Coordinator Dr Angela Mushavi said more infants and children were still being born HIV positive.
“If we take 100 pregnant women living with HIV and after they give birth after six weeks, we realise that about 4.7% of their babies will be HIV positive. This means between these 100 women, about five children are being born HIV positive. In Zimbabwe even though we can now also test babies’ birth for HIV, not every health facility in Zimbabwe has point of care testing devices which produce instant HIV results.
At moment, some samples are still being sent to Bulawayo and Harare while and turn around time is a bit longer and can take up to two months. The point of care testing services are still limited at the moment. We are also realising that after the baby would have been born, even some mother who wouldn’t have tested positive before giving birth are getting infected after delivering their babies. Because they do not know their status, they continue breastfeeding and, in the process, infect their babies who would have been born HIV negative,” said Dr Mushavi.
Meanwhile, according to Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment survey (ZIMPHIA 2020) released on December, 1 2020, Zimbabwe continues to progress towards achieving HIV epidemic control by 2030.
ZIMPHIA 2020 found that 86.8 percent of adults living with HIV were aware of their status and of those aware of their status, 97.0 percent were on antiretroviral treatment. Among those on treatment, 90.3 percent achieved viral load suppression.
According to the survey, the rate of annual new HIV infections among adults in Zimbabwe is 0.38 percent (0.54 percent among women and 0.20 percent among men) or approximately 31,000 persons over a year. The prevalence of HIV among adults was 12.9 percent, which corresponds to approximately 1.23 million adults in Zimbabwe living with HIV in 2020. Generally, the survey found that HIV prevalence was higher among women than men (15.3 percent vs. 10.2 percent).