Sh240m campaign to fight paediatric HIV

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 25 – The government has launched a multi-million shilling campaign to eliminate paediatric HIV in the next four years by promoting Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT).

Public Health Permanent Secretary Mark Bor said on Thursday that the Sh240 million campaign dubbed "Kata Shauri" (make a decision) will emphasise child survival and the need for sexual partners to go for HIV testing together especially when a woman is pregnant.

He said currently, only 10 percent of partners are tested together through the PMTCT programme and the government aims to increase this to 30 percent in the next year.

"More than half of all children living with HIV need life-saving treatment, but only a small fraction receive it. Without care, half of those babies will die before their second birthday and that is why we should scale up the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV," the PS remarked.

National statistics indicate that 1.5 million women become pregnant in Kenya annually and up to 15 percent of children were born with HIV.

The Head of Disease Prevention and Control at the ministry Dr Willis Akhwale said the focus on communities to encourage women to attend ante-natal care would help in achieving the goal.

"Not only in HIV… we are also talking about elimination of malaria by 2017, polio elimination, neo-natal tetanus; all these eliminations cannot go parallel and it will not be good to say we have eliminated one disease when the child soon dies from another," Dr Akhwale stated.

"Integration of services is going to be very critical," he added.

Coast and Nyanza regions were said to have the highest burden of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV at 15 and 14 percent respectively whereas Western and Central were reported to have the lowest transmission at 5.4 percent.

"The main mode of transmission has been through the feeding options especially breastfeeding when it is not exclusive," said Dr Sirengo Martin, PMTCT Programme Manager

National statistics indicate that 30,000 children are presently on anti retroviral treatment while another 60,000 require treatment but are not accessing it.

UNICEF Kenya Deputy Representative Dr Juan Ortiz noted that AIDS related deaths were reversing gains made in child health and survival in Kenya.

"Caring for HIV infected children has major economic and social impact on families and health systems," Dr Ortiz said and added: "We have the power to change Mother to Child Transmission of HIV."

The two-year campaign will run in three phases and will be based on community demand.

It is funded by UNICEF and more partners like the US government and local corporates are expected to join in.

It will focus on ARV treatment for children, emphasis on breastfeeding for child survival, encouraging both partners to go for HIV testing, linkage to care and treatment as well as Family planning.