Giving hope to families living with HIV and AIDS
“What is the point of saving the child if she is just going to become an orphan? Why don’t you care about keeping us alive and healthy so we can give our children a future?”
— Woman receiving care at a government health center supported by Plan Uganda
An estimated 2.1 million children and 22.4 million adults living with HIV — 60% of the global total — live in Sub-Saharan Africa1. Of those infected, 59% are female, with a growing infection rate of three females for every male infected between the ages of 14-22. Only 9% of HIV-positive pregnant women receive antiretroviral prophylaxis to prevent mother to child transmission2, which is when an HIV-positive woman passes the virus to her baby during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or breastfeeding.
Concerned about these alarming indicators, Plan began to search for ways to improve the quality of life of children and families affected by the disease. Most disconcerting to staff were questions asked, such as by the woman quoted above, about the increasing trend of children living while their parents passed away from AIDS-related illnesses.
In 2004, Plan Uganda initiated a five-year project with the Mukuju Health Center in Tororo, Uganda to explore how Plan could support the integration of antiretroviral therapy and social support into existing prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services.
What is PMTCT?Without intervention, around 22,000 Ugandan children will contract HIV from their mothers each year3. Fortunately, in recent years, promising developments have been made in preventing mother to child transmission in the developing world. PMTCT services traditionally follow a four-pronged strategy that includes primary prevention of HIV, family planning, reduction of vertical transmission from infected mothers to their babies (including antiretroviral drugs), and support for HIV-positive pregnant women and their families. PMTCT programs can reduce the risk of HIV transmission from infected mothers to their children by more than 50%3.
How is Plan providing more?As expressed by the mother quoted earlier, preventing mother to child transmission is only the beginning of ensuring a child’s well-being. For a baby to grow up well, it needs a mother who is alive and active. While acknowledging the needs of the pregnant woman living with HIV, traditional PMTCT programs did not specifically address those needs.
Inspired by the quest to improve children’s lives by creating an environment in which they can thrive, and where families remain intact, food is available and a hopeful future exists, the PMTCT-Plus program in Uganda is a joint effort by Plan Uganda, AIDS Information Centre, TASO, World Food Programme, Makerere Institute of Public Health, Africa 2000 Network, and Joint Clinical Research Centre.
The project, which serves a community of 170,000, supports the following:
- Encourages testing of all pregnant women and testing of men
- Treatment for opportunistic infections for those infected by HIV but also treatment for those who are critically ill due to AIDS
- Counseling and support to affected children so they can continue their normal lives through school and play
- Food security for families through encouraging them to grow their own food and rear animals to feed their families with support of agricultural extension workers
- Support of people who have tested through supportive networks called Post-Test Clubs that provide moral support, counseling and solidarity to all those who have tested and encourages safer behaviors
- Support groups to save money through Village Savings and Loans and invest and manage this money themselves in income generating projects to support their families
- Safe water for families through chlorination kits and education on water and sanitation
- Mobilized communities who volunteer to provide counseling and home-based cared for those who are ill through their own community support network
The project’s successes and achievementsAs of June 2008, the PMTCT-plus project had reached 16,000 pregnant women, 1,454 children and 633 men with HIV counseling, testing and treatment services. Read one family's journey of hope.
The project has also achieved a significant reduction in mother to child transmission of HIV. The rate of mother-to-child transmission has been reduced to under 6% which would otherwise be 40% without interventions. In fact, the Mukuju program has had such success that people are now traveling to the district to access the services.
Over 300 healthy babies have been born to HIV-positive mothers and, equally as important — through treatment support — the babies still have their mothers to care for and love them.
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- UNAIDS, Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, 2006.
- UNAIDS, Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic: Executive Summary, 2006.
- Uganda Ministry of Health. Policy Guidelines for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV. Revised Edition, August 2006, pp 4-5.
- Ibid, 5.
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