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KENYA: Mother-baby packs to reduce HIV transmission

Photo: UN/Eric Kanalstein
Women can use the mother-baby packs at home to reduce their transmission risk
KISUMU, 29 October 2010 (PlusNews) - A new, easy-to-use pack for pregnant, HIV-positive women could significantly reduce rates of mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) in Kenya.

The "mother-baby pack" contains antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and antibiotics that women can easily administer themselves at home to reduce the risk of infecting their babies and is colour-coded to make it easy to use even for illiterate mothers; each colour shows which drugs are to be taken during pregnancy, during labour and after delivery.

The packs form part of the "Maisha MTCT-free Zone Initiative", launched in the western city of Kisumu by the Kenyan government and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which aims to eliminate paediatric HIV from the country by 2015.

"This initiative has the potential to save many lives and I believe it is [an important] component towards the realization of our goal," Anthony Lake, UNICEF executive director, said at the launch on 29 October.

Health workers will distribute the mother-baby packs to pregnant women living with HIV who do not yet need ARV treatment for their own health. It is hoped the programme will reach HIV-positive pregnant women who might not return to the clinic following an initial diagnosis.

The packs will be available at antenatal clinics in four districts in the western provinces of Nyanza and Rift Valley with the aim of virtually eliminating paediatric HIV from both provinces by 2013; the two provinces account for about 50 percent of all children living with HIV/AIDS nationally.

Currently 4,000 out of 4,500 antenatal clinics in Kenya provide HIV treatment for mothers and children. While many mothers make at least one antenatal visit during their pregnancy, most do not have their babies at hospitals and clinics.

"In Nyanza, 92 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women know their HIV status but only 24 percent deliver in health facilities," said Ojuang Lusi, director of medical services in Nyanza Province.

An estimated 22,000 Kenyan children are infected with HIV annually through mother-to-child transmission. The country has around 81,000 pregnant women living with HIV; according to UNICEF, 72 percent of them received ARVs for PMTCT in 2009.

"We must strengthen other components like reproductive health and also give women a reason to deliver in health facilities for good outcomes," Lusi added.

Lessons from southern Africa

The mother-baby pack was launched in Lesotho and Zambia earlier this year and according to Charles Lyons, president of the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, a key partner in Lesotho, the southern African experience could provide valuable lessons for the programme in Kenya.

"Our experience in Lesotho is that focus should be on strengthening the capacity of health workers by training and thus increasing acceptability by them... Also community participation - which involves male participation - is critical in the success of the programme," he said.

The rollout of the mother-baby pack will run until mid-2011, during which time its acceptance by women, as well as the management of supply and distribution will be monitored. UNICEF's Lake noted that operational research would help determine gaps in the programme and how best to close those gaps.

Read more
 Support groups boosting PMTCT uptake
 Male clinics boost men's participation in PMTCT
 PMTCT could be key to cutting child mortality
 New PMTCT guidelines to save moms and babies
According to Jacqueline Odongo, an HIV-positive mother, reduction in stigma will be key to the success of the mother-baby pack.

"We must continue with efforts... that would make mothers not afraid of taking the packs - continuous persuasion of mothers that this is important for the health of their children and themselves is very important," she said.

The "Maisha MTCT-free Zone Initiative" will also involve the use of "mentor mothers" to support pregnant women living with HIV; a strategy for early infant diagnosis that includes the use of mobile phone short message service (SMS) technology; and encouraging pregnant women's male partners to get more involved.

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Theme(s): Children, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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