HIV/AIDS threatens Tanzania's gains in child health

Dar es Salaam- Tanzania (PANA) -- The scourge of AIDS is threatening to erode Tanzania's achievements in child health as an increasing number of children are getting infected by their mothers living with HIV, which causes the incurable disease.
Tanzania had attained enviable progress in its child healthcare programmes by reducing child deaths and the promotion of family health.
But the emergence of the pandemic in the early 1980s and its fast spread now poses a development challenge amid rising incidents of mother-to-child HIV transmission.
Health experts in the East African country are warning of an impending disaster as an additional 75,000 infants are being infected with HIV every year.
"The country is heading for a complete reversal of the gains made and serious wastage of many years of development investment," concedes Roland Swai, Manager of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that Tanzania has 600,000 AIDS cases while 1.
4 million people are living with HIV.
The disease has already orphaned 500,000 children.
Swai says the HIV/AIDS impact on children is reflected in the huge number of AIDS orphans and the severely high risk of HIV infection among adolescents.
Over 90 percent of infections in children result from mother to child transmission of HIV.
Tanzania HIV prevalence among pregnant women ranges at between 12 and 20 percent or one out of four.
This poses a major threat to the approximately 1.
5 million babies born in the country each year.
"There is a high risk of passing HIV infection from infected mothers to their children during pregnancy, labour, delivery and through breast milk," Swai explains.
Recent studies in the country have shown a 50 percent risk of vertical HIV infection, 20-30 percent during pregnancy and labour while a further 14 percent through breast milk.
"Since up to 95 percent of Tanzanian mothers breast-feed their babies, the risk of HIV transmission through breast milk is high and threatens the single, most reliable intervention against protein-energy-malnutrition in under fives," explains Wilbroad Lori, Director General of the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre.
He says mother to child HIV transmission is set to have a harmful impact on child survival.
Using the HIV prevalence rate of 12 percent of antenatal women and total vertical transmission of 40 percent, health authorities say between 60,000 and 70,000 babies would be infected with HIV each year during pregnancy, labour and delivery or through breastfeeding.
Among factors influencing the risk of transmission include viral and maternal factors (immunological and nutritional status) and behavioural factors such as drug use and sexual practice.
To prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, Tanzanian health experts says HIV counselling and testing during pregnancy provides an important opportunity to identify HIV-negative women and counsel them about reducing their risk of infection.
"HIV-negative women should be given information about HIV and their risk of infection and safer sex practice," says Bennet Fimbo of the NACP.
"General health information, such as reduction of smoking, alcohol or drug abuse and the importance of adequate nutrition is as relevant to HIV-negative women as to those who are HIV- positive and should be given to pregnant women," he emphasizes.
In Tanzania, five major hospitals have been selected for a pilot intervention programme on reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission through Antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment.
"The decision on infant feeding is best made before delivery, but HIV-positive women may need support and education for either replacement of feeding options.
"The use of antiretroviral drugs in pregnancy for the prevention of mother-to-child-transmission should be encouraged," Fimbo explains.

14 august 2001 23:15:00

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