Kenya First Of Four Countries To Launch UNICEF, Partners Initiative Aimed At PMTCT Of HIV

On Friday, UNICEF and the Kenyan government announced a partnership aimed at preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV by providing HIV-positive mothers with packs of medicines they can easily administer to themselves or their babies at home, IRIN/PlusNews reports. According to the news service, the “‘mother-baby pack’ contains antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and antibiotics that women can easily administer themselves at home to reduce the risk of infecting their babies and is colour-coded to make it easy to use even for illiterate mothers; each colour shows which drugs are to be taken during pregnancy, during labour and after delivery” (10/29).

“The ‘Mother-Baby-Pack’ is part of the [Kenyan] government’s Maisha MTCT-free Zone Initiative,” according to a UNICEF press release. “This innovative programme is designed to help virtually eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of HIV and pediatric AIDS by 2013 in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, where about half of all Kenyan children with HIV live, and by 2015 in the entire country. Without treatment, around half of all children born with HIV will die before their second birthday,” the press release states (10/29).

“This initiative has the potential to save many lives and I believe it is [an important] component towards the realization of our goal,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said at the launch Friday, according to IRIN/PlusNews (10/29).

The launch of the mother-baby packs in Kenya “marks the beginning of a phased implementation in four countries, including also Cameroon, Lesotho and Zambia,” according to the UNICEF press release (10/29). Capital FM writes that the program in Kenya “is scheduled to run through mid-2011,” during which it “will be monitored by UNICEF and its partners” to monitor distribution of the drugs as well as mothers’ acceptance and use of the medicine.

Capital FM reports that low rates of prenatal care in Kenya, “with less than a half of all pregnant women actually completing four antenatal care visits before giving birth and more than a half of pregnant women giving birth at home,” complicate efforts to reduce MTCT. Lake explained, “Other factors hindering scale-up of prevention of mother to child transmission services is that a third of all pregnant women living with HIV and AIDS still receive less efficacious drug regimens; and that babies born to mothers with HIV/AIDS are often not tested early-on” (Wambui, 10/31).

“The pack was developed by UNICEF in collaboration with the World Health Organization, USAID, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and other partners,” VOA News writes. “The idea was inspired by healthcare workers in Lesotho, who gave HIV-positive pregnant women plain paper bags filled with pre-measured drugs along with instructions on how to administer them during and after pregnancy. The experiment proved highly effective at stopping HIV transmission from mother to child,” according to the news service (Ryu, 10/29).

In addition to the mother-baby packs, the “Maisha Initiative further aims at increasing the number of deliveries with assistance from skilled birth attendants through intensified follow up of pregnant women by community health workers, and by supporting the roll out of a Health Services Support Fund. The Fund provides incentives to health facilities that improve their performance and reach more pregnant women, especially in remote communities,” according to the UNICEF press release (10/29).

“According to the 2010 report on universal access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment released last month by WHO, UNAIDS, and UNICEF, the global health community is reaching more than half of pregnant women (53%) in need of services to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to baby,” according to a press release from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. “However, nearly 1,200 babies are still newly infected with HIV every day, emphasizing the need to reach more mothers and children” (10/29).

Even though Kenya has made progress in adding PMTCT programs in the country, some “22,000 children are infected annually through mother-to-child transmission,” the Daily Nation writes in an article that examines the factors that present challenges to driving down the number of children infected with HIV/AIDS (Otieno, 10/30).

“The initiative is being supported financially by a number of partners including the U.S. Government, UNICEF National Committees, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Mothers-to-Mothers (M2M) programme,” according to the UNICEF press release (10/29).

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