Mother-to-child Transmission of HIV: The Way Forward

I live in Ethiopia. Ever since HIV/AIDS came out of nowhere and took center stage in the early 80’s, it  has managed to spread to every nook and cranny of the world and claim the lives of millions of mothers and children around us. In a country where we used to bury someone close almost every week, we have seen a big change: countries with the highest infection and mortality rates, like Ethiopia, have been able to slow down the HIV trend. Yet, sadly, there are still other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where more needs to be done: in South Africa, for example, the infection rate of HIV among pregnant women has been reported to be as high as 29%, this has not changed much in many years1.

We Ethiopians are a very traditional people and, not so much in the cities as in the countryside, sex before marriage is still taboo.  Due to a lack of education and information regarding HIV transmission from mother-to-child, the life of a young woman who is pregnant and HIV positive is a very hard one. The disease takes a toll on all aspects of her life, both physically and socially. The first to be affected is her health. She may experience weight loss, chronic diarrhea, and a constant fever. After her family finds out that she is HIV positive, there will become social issues where she can find herself ostracized, if not totally cut off from them. Proof of this can be seen in almost all churches around Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where pregnant girls seeking help and sanctuary can be seen. On the outside of her family life, an HIV positive pregnant woman will see her productivity decrease due to a reduced ability to work. But, here too like almost anywhere across Africa, the biggest scars will always be those that we, her society, mete out in the forms of stigmatization and discrimination.

Pregnant women with HIV can pass their disease onto their unborn children during pregnancy, labor and delivery or through breastfeeding. This is known as mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). Studies show that in 2009, 400,000 children under the age of 15 were infected with HIV and that in 90% of these cases, it was due to MTCT 2. Similar studies show that without treatment, there is a 20-45 % chance that a baby born to an HIV positive mother will also become infected3.

The sad thing is that mother-to-child transmission could actually be prevented with the right resources like knowledge, information and access to antiretroviral treatment. Knowing that an HIV positive mother should never breastfeed her baby and use antiretroviral drugs extensively can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission to an amazing less than 2%4. With education, information and access to antiretroviral treatment, the burdens borne by these hapless mothers living with HIV/AIDS can be alleviated. The biggest load off their backs is the knowledge that their children will have the chance to lead a full, healthy life without the shadow of HIV/AIDS over their heads. This will help guarantee an HIV/AIDS free generation

  1. PlusNews: http://www.plusnews.org/report.aspx?Reportid=91083
  2. AVERTing HIV and AIDS: http://www.avert.org/pmtct-hiv.htm
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid

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One Response to “Mother-to-child Transmission of HIV: The Way Forward”

  1. P90X says:

    interesting post :) :) :)

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