Men: A New Force in the Fight Against Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV

It might sound a little out of sync, but the active participation of men in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS has been found to produce amazing results. A study done in Kenya has shown that if men are involved in the reproductive health with their partners, vertical transmission of HIV and the infant mortality that follows can be reduced by up to 40%1. How this is so can only be understood by considering the fact that in Africa, the male partner is considered to be the head of the family and has absolute say on everything that concerns his family, including matters of sexual reproduction.

Many men feel that as long as they are married having to get tested for HIV is either totally useless, or an insult towards their spouses, and hence themselves, because it implies that the woman has loose morals. They therefore hesitate, if not outright refuse, to entertain any questions of their wives going in to have an HIV test. The importance of this decision occurs when we consider the fact that in order for a mother to prevent the transmission of the disease to her child, she needs to be diagnosed early enough to start the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) regimen.

When delving into other reasons that stop men from playing a key role in PMTCT:

  • Topics about pregnancy and childbirth are commonly left to the woman to be take care of in almost all African cultures. It wouldn’t be surprising if a man found it demeaning to even talk about the topic let alone follow his wife into a consulting room and talk openly about HIV and mother-to-child transmission (MTCT).
  • There is the constant fear of being ostracized by his community should it be known that he or his wife is HIV positive. The fear is so strong, that he would rather fall ill and deal with the consequences later, than come out and admit it. He would even fear what the society would say about him should he even be seen walking into a clinic.
  • Sexual violence is a problem that needs to be addressed in Africa. In countries like South Africa, sexual prowess is often associated with promiscuousness and even rape. Studies have found that the chance of a rapist being HIV positive is high2. Therefore, educating the men against these harmful traditions makes it fundamental to the fight against the MTCT of HIV.

Finally, a family cannot fight against any threat, diseases or otherwise, if one member proves to be the weakest link. More focus needs to be put on the men if we are to allow our children to live.

Sources:

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2765726/?tool=pubmed

JEWKES, R. K.; Levin, J. B.; Penn-Kekana, L. A.: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/publications/list.php?inpress=1&filter=list&value=998000000001826&view=code

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