Close to 5000 babies got infected with HIV in 2021 due the mothers’ reluctancy to get antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) Deputy PMTCT and Paediatric HIV Care and Treatment Coordinator, Dr Precious Andifasi last Friday told journalists at a National Aids Council media training workshop in Chinhoyi that 4 750 babies got infected during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
As a program, we collect some data every year just to try and see where the new infections are coming from. So, for 2021, we had about 4 785 new infections. So, these are babies that had HIV transmitted from their mothers,” she said.
She said during pregnancy, 1 345 women did not receive Antiretroviral therapy and 445 during pregnancy and this saw babies getting infected.
“So, from this number, what were the contributors to the new infections. So, you can see different colors, we have got blue, we have got red, mustard, yellow and green. You can see that the red is contributing the greatest number of babies.
“And this coincides with women who were positive, who were tested positive and they either did not receive ART during pregnancy or they did not receive ART during pregnancy. For whatever reason, we have noted that women come in, we test them, they test positive, and they decline to be started on ART. It might be due to lack of disclosure or due to other reasons. But you can see how many babies we have got; we have got 1 348 during pregnancy and 445 during breastfeeding.”
Dr Andifasi added that there were mothers who came in, tested positive, and were not put on ART.
“The mustard color here are women who started ART and then they stopped. They contributed 770 babies during pregnancy and 576 during breastfeeding. These are estimates, modelling that we use to get this information from our data. What it basically means is if we get every woman who is positive identified early, we put them on ART, those that we put on ART, stay on ART, we can literally reduce these new infections significantly,” she said.
There were also women who seroconverted during pregnancy and or breastfeeding.
“Just to highlight this yellow color, these are women who came in negative, we test them, they are negative and then during the course the pregnancy or breastfeeding, they acquired HIV. So they contributed about 800 new infections according to this modeling, during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” she said.
Added Dr Andifasi, “Another one of our interventions is to keep the women who are negative, negative. If we look at the barriers to accessing PMTCT services, we can see that stigma, discrimination and denial are significant barriers. Stigma around people still thinking that HIV only infects those who are immoral or sexually deviant. That they must not be doing something right. Denial. Not accepting the risk of contracting HIV applies to them. And also shunning those who are infected or perceived to be at risk.”
She added as part of their initiatives to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children, they are testing every six months if the mother seroconverted.
“And it’s not enough to test someone now and then they are negative and you forget about it. We need to test again before she delivers and every six months during breastfeeding. About 800 new infections came from women who came in negative and they acquired the HIV infection somewhere along the line. so, we need to pick them up early because if a woman gets a new infection, the viral load will be high so chances of transmitting to the baby, will also be very high,” noted Dr Andifasi.
She also said 46 percent of those who tested positive in Ante Natal Clinics were adolescent girls and young women under 30.
According to her presentation, 16 percent were adolescents aged between 15 and 19 while young women aged between 20 and 24 years accounted for 30 percent with 25 to 29 year olds being 23 percent.
She said in their bid to keep pregnant and breastfeeding women HIV negative, what is hindering the uptake of PrEP were factors such as masungiro where a woman stays with her parents prior giving birth, lack of spousal support as well as late booking at ANC.
“There are other things that we have noticed affecting people taking this medication. So delayed booking, people only book when their pregnancy is visible. Ideally, we would want this woman to come in the first three months so that we can test her, then we monitor the pregnancy going forward. People only come when they are six to seven months pregnant. So, we miss an opportunity there. the other thing is lack of spousal support. It is very difficult to tell your partner that I am taking this because I feel I am at high risk of acquiring HIV.
“It is a difficult conversation to have. Also, masungiro where a woman goes to her family only coming back after delivery, it may also affect our uptake of some of these things. There are some myths and misconceptions about PrEP. There can be some stigma as well. So, these are the things that we really want to try and address going forward so that we can increase uptake PrEP,” Dr Andifasi said.