Sustained stigma continues to undermine the fight against the HIV/Aids scourge and remains a major cause of mother- to-child infection in Uganda, activists have said.
The plight of thousands of mothers and children affected by it, lingers on as Uganda today joins the rest of the world to mark the World Aids Day.
The story of Adriane Akankunda, offers an eloquent illustration of experiences of thousands of children born with HIV. She holds her mother tightly as though to ease the pain caused by the soars in her mouth and rashes on her neck. Akankunda, just three-years-old, contracted HIV from her mother, who fearing stigma, weaned her after six months “because she was afraid people will know that she is positive.” HIV-positive mothers are advised to wean their babies after three months to prevent the transmission of the disease.
Ms Gloria Ahimbisibwe, Akankunda’s mother, explaining her daughters condition says: “I think she looks like that because she has not yet started taking ARVs, the doctor says that she is not yet fit for ARVs so at the moment she is still on septrine.”
As the world commemorates World Aids Day today under the theme, “Getting to Zero” with three targets of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero Aids-related deaths, Uganda is still grappling with the fight against pediatric HIV whose major cause is mother-to-child transmission.
Statistics show that more than 1,000 children contract HIV from their mothers daily.
Dr Godfrey Esiru, the national coordinator of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) in the Ministry of Health, says unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV -infected person is the cause of 80 per cent of the HIV cases in Uganda.
A journalist guide on pediatric HIV from Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation and Star South West, shows that more than 90 per cent of the HIV infections in children in Uganda result from mother-to-child transmission.
Dr Esiru said out of 1.5 million pregnant mothers, 96,000 of them are infected and because of no interventions, 30 per cent of these mothers infect their children leading to 27,000 infected babies every year where two-third of them die before three years.
While a number of prevention measures such as male circumcision and Abstinence, Being faithful and Condom (ABC) use, have been in place to fight HIV and eliminate pediatric HIV by 2015, statistics show that Uganda is not making any significant improvement.
A report on the status of Paediatric HIV in Uganda indicates that by 2008, Uganda registered 25,000 children with new cases of HIV.
Minimal trials for child vaccines
By 2010, 22,000 new infections were registered and these were due to mother-to-child transmission.
Dr Moses Walakila, the technical Director at Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation, Paediatric HIV mostly pronounced in upcountry areas where few families access family planning.
“So even in cases where a couple knows that they are positive and thus do not want to conceive any more, the fact that they have no access to family planning, they will conceive and lack of knowledge on how to help such a mother at birth by nurses will easily lead to the passing on of the virus to the baby,” he explains.
Mr Paul Mayende from Baylor-Uganda said the greatest challenge to the prevention of mother-to-child infection is the absence of available services.
“Much as over 1,500 health facilities can provided prevention of mother to child transmission services, only about 30 per cent of expectant mothers deliver from a health facility. This implies that majority of the mothers giving birth from other places other than the health facilities have their infants exposed to HIV.”