, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 31 – The government in conjunction with the United Nations Children\’s Fund (UNICEF) has come up with an initiative that will prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies.
The initiative dubbed Maisha includes a combination of interventions and supplies including a mother-baby-pack of antiretroviral drugs and antibiotics which mothers will be able to easily administer from home.
UNICEF Executive Director Antony Lake said the programme would help eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by the year 2013 especially in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces where about half of HIV positive children in Kenya live.
"Maisha means "Life" in Kiswahili, and I can think of no better way to describe a programme with the potential to save so many lives. It is a significant step towards our common goal of virtually eliminating mother to child transmission in Kenya," he said.
Mr Lake further observed that 50 percent of children living with HIV in the country died before celebrating their second birthday due to lack of access to treatment.
"The survival chances of a child born with HIV are much higher if antiretroviral treatment is initiated soon after birth," he said.
He also commended the government for putting in place appropriate measures to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children.
"The rolling out of this pack in Kenya marks the beginning of a phased implementation in four countries, including Cameroon, Lesotho and Zambia," he explained.
The programme which is scheduled to run through mid-2011 will be monitored by UNICEF and its partners especially with view to the pack\’s acceptance.
"We will also closely observe the quality of supply and distribution during this initial phase," said Mr Lake.
The mother-baby-pack was developed by UNICEF together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners including the UNITAID, an international drug purchasing facility that provides medicine and treatment against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis for the poorest people of developing countries.
Health workers in antenatal clinics will distribute the packs to pregnant women living with HIV, but do not yet need antiretroviral treatment for their own health.
The initiative is designed to reach pregnant women who have tested positive for HIV, but who might not otherwise return to a clinic following their diagnosis.
It further aims at increasing the number of deliveries with assistance from skilled birth attendants through intensified follow up of pregnant women by community health workers and by supporting the roll out of a Health Services Support Fund.
The Fund provides incentives to health facilities that improve their performance and reach more pregnant women, especially in remote communities.
While the adult HIV prevalence rate in Kenya is on a steady decline, there are still some 22,000 new infections annually among infants through mother-to-child transmission. Overall, some 1.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya, including some 81,000 pregnant women.
According to UNICEF, Kenya has made important progress in scaling up its Prevention of Mother To Child Transmissions (PMTCT) programmes over the past years with services being offered in 4,000 out of almost 4,500 antenatal care centres in the country.
Despite this progress, the number of pregnant women actually receiving antiretrovirals for PMTCT stagnated at around 58,600 in 2009, which indicates that these services are still out of reach for many women.
A further scale up of PMTCT services has been hampered by low utilisation of antenatal care services, with less than a half of all pregnant women actually completing four antenatal care visits before giving birth and more than a half of pregnant women giving birth at home.
"Other factors hindering scale-up of prevention of mother to child transmission services is that a third of all pregnant women living with HIV and AIDS still receive less efficacious drug regimens; and that babies born to mothers with HIV/AIDS are often not tested early-on," said Mr Lake.
The initiative is being supported financially by a number of partners including the US Government, UNICEF National Committees, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Mothers-to-Mothers (M2M) programme.