by Work the World

The HIV prevalence in Tanzania is 5.7 per cent, with over 1.4 million people living with HIV. Over half of these are women. Many of these women will pass on the virus to their babies during pregnancy, labour and delivery.

Charles Lyons, President of the Washington-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) has spoken out about his belief that it is possible to reduce the large number of infants being born HIV positive in the country. If interventions were in place to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), he feels numbers could be dramatically reduced.

In high income countries MTCT has been virtually eliminated thanks to effective voluntary testing and counselling, access to antiretroviral therapy, safe delivery practices, and the widespread availability and safe use of breast-milk substitutes. If these interventions were used worldwide, they could save the lives of thousands of children each year.

Last year EGPAF saw over 1.5 million women. Education, training and support based programmes ensured that these women understood the risks involved in passing on the disease.

The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare , Dr Lucy Nkya, said at the launch of AGPAF that the National HIV prevalence of 5.7 per cent was too high and should not be tolerated.

“We need to work together closely to ensure people living with HIV get access to treatment, we need to make effective prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMCT) services available to women who need them so we are able to protect the health of mothers and dramatically reduce the number of new infections in children”

She also said that  the government would try and ensure that every pregnant woman attending an antenatal care clinic is tested for HIV.

In Tanzania it can still sometimes be seen as taboo to recognise HIV. The deputy minister is aware of the challenges and is keen to strengthen of health systems so that they can deliver the comprehensive package needed to prevent the transmission between mother and child, but also to provide treatment for the HIV positive mother to be and testing the children. Husbands also needed to be encouraged to undergo a test.

"Let’s also understand that once we save a child from infection during birth, it is equally important to prevent the infection from occurring through breastfeeding while ensuring that the mother will survive to raise her child for we know the best medicine for any child is a healthy mother to take care of her”

EGPAF's Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMCT) programme in the country has so far covered over 1.3 million women. More than 120,000 women have enrolled on care and treatment services out of which nearly 60,000 are on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) through the foundation support.

Women and children are hopefully also going to benefit even further this year. The World Health Organisation, along with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, have just set out a plan to ensure the $40 billion pledged last year for women and children’s health in Tanzania is delivered as promised and targets life-saving projects. With 340,000 women dying each year in childbirth, or from pregnancy related complications, the world is starting to take Tanzania's health problems very seriously.

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