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Aug 1, 2001

New programme will reduce mother-to-child HIV

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According to the latest census, there are approximately one hundred and twenty-four thousand females in Belize. Of that number it is not certain just how many women of child bearing age are at risk for HIV. But based on statistics collected by the Ministry of Health, it is believed that a significant number of pregnant women may be infected with HIV. To protect unborn children from infection, the ministry, in conjunction with that of the Bahamas, is preparing to implement a programme that would not only help mothers treat the virus but can actually prevent their babies from getting HIV.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

A recent survey conducted by the Central Statistical Office reveals that eighty two percent of pregnant women receive prenatal care at health institutions and most of them have their babies in hospitals. This means that health practitioners have access to most mothers who may be infected with the HIV virus…and can offer care to save their babies. The mother to child transmission prevention programme has been a remarkable success in the Bahamas and now has become a model for other countries.

Dr. Perry Gomez, Chief of Medicine/Infectious Diseases, Bahamas

“In 1993 we had a prevalence of five point three percent of all pregnant women testing positive for the HIV and we knew our transmission to infants were thirty percent, so we knew that we had a large number of babies being born with HIV. We implemented the AZT protocol in June of 1995 and since then we have been able to reduce transmission from thirty percent to nine percent.”

The treatment, which is fifty percent effective, is rather simple and does not require the use of highly trained technicians. The drug, Nevirapine, was specifically developed for developing countries.

Dr. Perry Gomez

“Because when you look at the original protocol that the United States implemented in 1994, its very complex involving infrastructure and it requires an intravenous component for the mother during labour. And as you know that require trained personnel, and you can’t do that in the boom docks, so the Nevirapine protocol and other protocols that are totally by mouth was developed for the less developed countries like Africa and so on.”

Dr. Perry Gomez, who is a member of the UNAIDS technical board and an expert in the field in the prevention of mother to child transmission of the HIV virus is in the country to facilitate the implementation of the programme in Belize. Physicians and nurses are learning how the programme is managed and what is expected of them as health care personnel. The visit is part of an ongoing working relationship between the ministries of health in Belize and the Bahamas.

Dr. Cardo Martinez, Dir., Maternal Child Health, Belize

“The Ministry of Health is upbeat on this in terms of making sure that all the compliments that are required are put in place is not only to make sure the programme is a success but as this continues to happen. The prevention of mother to child transmission is done in a very important way of not creating orphans, not creating disabilities and not creating permanent illness and chronic disabilities that take a burden on the Ministry of Health’s budget.”

Though the treatment has not yet been officially implemented, the Ministry of health Has already introduced measures in specific health centres to test the programme. Pregnant women are voluntarily tested for the HIV virus and if the results are positive, they start receiving treatment. The protocol involves the mother first receiving a single tablet during labour.

Dr. Cardo Martinez

“That when you go into labour it will prevent you from passing the virus from yourself to your child, giving your child an opportunity to be born HIV negative. As soon as the child is born, we now have in the country the medication where within forty-eight hours you give it to the child; that same medication in liquid form to make sure that if the virus did pass any at all with the levels gotten from the mother when she was given the tablet plus the levels gotten from the oral medicine given to the child, the virus would have destroyed. I can share with you that since we started this project, we’ve had four mothers that tested HIV positive and of those four mothers, the four kids have been proven to be negative. I think that goes a long way.”

The Ministry of Health has already approved the working document and once the programme is implemented, medical authorities expect to greatly lessen the chance of an unborn child getting infected with the HIV virus. Reporting for News Five Jacqueline Woods.

The Ministry of Health is in the process of printing over twenty thousand leaflets for pregnant mothers informing them about the M.T.C.T. prevention programme.


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