HIV: Journalists urged to  support PMTCT campaign

MBARARA, April 19, 2024 – Journalists under the umbrella of Health Journalists Network Uganda [HEJNU] have been called upon to popularise a campaign geared towards prevention of mother-to-child transmission [ PMTCT ] of HIV/AIDS.

During the HEJNU Media Café held days ago at Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital in Mbarara district to equip journalists on how best they can report on health matters, Fredrick Kamugisha, a Health Educator in Mbarara district, said journalists have an important role in PMTCT of HIV/AIDS.

He added that the journey of eliminating MTCT of HIV begins with pregnant mothers visiting health facilities for antenatal care.

According to World Health Organisation [WHO], antenatal care provides a platform for important health-care functions, including health promotion, screening and diagnosis, and disease prevention.

Kamugisha said among other avenues, MTCT of HIV can occur through breastfeeding, adding that it is the reason why pregnant mothers are sensitised about the importance of breastfeeding and health challenges associated with it.

Fredrick Kamugisha, a Health Educator in Mbarara district speaking to journalists (Photo by Joshua Nahamya).

“When a pregnant mother is examined and found HIV-positive, she is put on treatment immediately to reduce the viral load in her blood but also this prevents mother-to-child transmission of HIV,” he said.

He added “At six weeks, we do what we call early infant diagnosis to ascertain whether a child is positive or negative.”

Kamugisha added that if the mother is not taking the drugs as recommended, the viral load will be high and the virus will be present in the breast milk.

“They [breastfeeding mothers] need to understand that taking drugs consistently reduces risks of children acquiring HIV/AIDS,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Health report, before introduction of elimination of perinatal mother-to-child transmission [EMCT] of HIV, MTCT used to be between 25-40 percent but with the ushering in of the programme, the HIV rate in breastfeeding mothers went as low as below 5 percent and with non-breastfeeding mothers as low as below 2 percent.

Meanwhile, the HIV prevalence rate in Mbarara district stands at 4.1 percent and the incidence rate is at 3 per 1,000, meaning that out of 1,000 people in the district, three can acquire HIV, with a total of 7,000 people HIV positive.

According to Dr. Mike Kyewalyanga, a pediatrician at Holy Innocents Children’s Hospital, 5 percent of HIV can be transmitted through breastfeeding, thus appealing to positive mothers to breastfeed for just a year.

“After one year, the benefits of breast milk have reduced so mothers would rather stop breastfeeding and minimise the risk of MTCT of HIV.

Further, he urged adolescents to avoid unprotected sex. “Your sexual behaviour should be upright. Don’t find partners and you believe that they are HIV negative. I advise that if you cannot abstain from sex, then use condoms, he said.

Catherine Ankunda, a mother living with HIV/AIDS appreciated government’s efforts to curb mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“If you go to the hospital, they test and sensitise you on how you should live. It is up to you as a parent to practice whatever they tell you to protect your child from catching HIV/AIDS,” Ankunda said

She said that being HIV-positive is not the end of life, thus encouraging other people infected with the virus to routinely take their medication to suppress the viral load.

“People should know their status and they should know that living with HIV is not a crime. It is not the end of life because you can live like any other person if you take medication, and follow counselling advice,” Ankunda said

A recent report by the Uganda Ministry of Health shows a significant reduction in the rates of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the country from over 20 percent in 2000 to 2.8 percent in 2021.

Although mother-to-child transmission of HIV is preventable through antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy and postpartum, there were more than 150,000 new infections in children [0 – 14 years] worldwide in 2020. The UNAIDS 2021 Spectrum estimates indicate there were 5,500 new childhood HIV infections in Uganda due to mother-to-child transmission, with half of those infections occurring among infants born to mothers who stopped HIV treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

According to the 2018–2023 Ugandan National Elimination Plan II, mother-to-child transmission of HIV accounts for 18 percent of all new infections in Uganda and is the primary source of infections among children.

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