Ghana pleads for AIDS drugs for unborn babies

Accra- Ghana (PANA) -- Ghana's minister of health, Dr Richard Anane said the country stands to lose the moderate gains made in the Expanded Immunisation Programme and the control of infectious paediatric diseases if nothing is done to prevent pregnant women from transmitting the HIV virus to their unborn babies.
He said some of these control programmes have significantly reduced infant and childhood morbidity and mortality from 100 and 187 per live 1,000 births in 1988, to 57 and 108 per 1,000 live births in 1998 respectively, in Ghana.
"AIDS has the potential of increasing the risk of death from some of these infections that our efforts have hitherto succeeded in controlling," Dr Anane said in a speech read on his behalf Monday at the national launch of the Mother-to-Child Transmission (MTCT) programme in Accra.
The programme, jointly organised by the Ministry of Health, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra and UNICEF, was intended to administer nevirapine, an anti-retroviral drug to pregnant women and babies.
Dr Henrietta Odoi-Agyarko, director of Maternal and Child Health further explained that the purpose of the programme is to introduce counselling and voluntary testing for pregnant women.
She said it would specifically advise HIV-infected mothers on appropriate feeding for their infants.
The first phase is being piloted at St Martin's Hospital and Atua Government Hospital, both at Manya Krobo in the Eastern Region, where the antenatal prevalence rate is 8.
3 percent, the highest in the country.
The programme, expected to cover the whole nation within three years, targets all women who attend antenatal clinics and those of reproductive age between 15 and 29 years.
It would also disseminate information on MTCT and provide voluntary counselling and testing for HIV infection.
Over 90 percent of HIV infections in children result from mother-to-child transmission in the uterus, during labour and delivery, or post-partum during breast-feeding.
This accounts for 15 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in Ghana, according to medical sources.
About 90 percent of the 590,000 new paediatric HIV infections estimated in the world in 1998 occurred in Africa.
Recent studies in Ghana also indicate that in 1998, 6.
8 percent of pregnant women were found to be HIV infected in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city.
Anane said although the national prevalence among antenatal women is 2.
4 percent, there was a wide variation across the country with some areas recording as high as 15 percent.
He appealed to Ghanaians and especially, health workers, to adopt more sympathetic attitude towards those infected with the disease.
"The high level of stigmatisation and discrimination among health workers and the public at large, needs to be overcome if we are to succeed in our fight against this deadly disease," he added.

24 Abril 2001 23:12:00

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