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Sierra Leone News: HIV/AIDS transmission drops with exclusive breastfeeding

Amongst its responsibilities, the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat (NAS) is obligated to provide treatment, care and support for those who are HIV/AIDS positive regarding testing services of prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT).
The Secretariat has only expanded its support to 691 sites at the moment, and that is for only health facilities that provide PMTCT services. “We do have a gap in that because we are at about 53% reach of total number of facilities we are providing PMTCT services for,” said Dr. Tom Sesay, HIV/AIDS Control Program Manager.
The uptake of testing amongst pregnant women has consistently increased and that is one of the areas the country is achieving the national target set for by the Global Fund.
“We have over 95% pregnant women that go to antenatal services and get tested for HIV except for facilities that do not have PMTCT services. So we get staff to be well trained so that they understand the protocols and what to do for those pregnant women that are positive,” he said.
As part of the new protocol which emphasizes treating people as soon as they test positive, the Secretariat, he said, is making that a priority to get those who have tested positive to take their anti-retrovirals (ARVs), as that helps prevent transmission of the infection and thereby increases the chances of having healthy babies.
Technical guidance and policy issues around HIV positive pregnant mothers are being disseminated, with the introduction of the dual testing kit for HIV and syphilis.
Prior research had shown that exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of an infant’s life was associated with a three to fourfold decreased risk of HIV transmission compared to infants who were breastfed and also received other milks or foods.
As a result nutrition is said to be one of the major concern in the drive towards PMTCT, because the protocol that is in place at the moment requires excusive breastfeeding for a child that is expose.
Dr. Sesay emphasized that a child that is born to a positive mother is supposed to be on exclusive breastfeeding for six months… “that is what we have put in the protocol and that is what we have recommended.”
The WHO-led Kesho Bora study found that giving HIV-positive mothers a combination of antiretrovirals during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding reduced the risk of HIV transmission to infants by 42%.
The Breastfeeding Antiretroviral and Nutrition study held in Malawi also showed a risk of HIV transmission reduced to just 1.8% for infants given the antiretroviral drug nevirapine daily while breastfeeding for 6 months.
By Zainab Iyamide Joaque
Friday August 09, 2018.

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