GETTING to Zero new HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infections is a global commitment. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has estimated that in 2008 approximately 33.4 million people worldwide were infected with HIV. One of the modes of transmission of the HIV virus is Mother to Child Transmission; this is where a mother who is infected with the HIV virus passes the virus to her child either during delivery or breastfeeding. More than 500,000 babies worldwide contract HIV from their mothers; ninety percent of these cases occur in developing countries. In 2012, the Ministry of Health announced the implementation plans for Option B+, a policy that would ensure that all women found to be infected with the HIV virus while pregnant would be started on antiretroviral medication for life. Implementation of Option B+ involves testing ALL pregnant women at least once during pregnancy. Couples planning pregnancy should get tested for HIV if their status is unknown. If one or both in the couple are infected with the HIV virus, it is important to seek advice from a health care provider on methods used to achieve a pregnancy with as little risk as possible to the partner that is not infected with the HIV virus. A healthy diet and light exercise are always recommended during pregnancy. This does not change in women infected with the HIV virus and the only special consideration is the need to take antiretroviral drugs.
After the baby is born, breast milk is the best milk for baby. Before 2009 women who were infected with HIV were told not to breastfeed their babies for fear of passing the HIV virus. It has since been proven that if the breastfeeding mother takes her medication (anti-retrovirals) correctly, the chances of the mother passing the virus to the baby through exclusive breastfeeding is very low. The job of the antiretroviral drugs is to reduce the number of virus in the body to undetectable levels, therefore, making it safer to breastfeed the child. In Zambia, the children born to HIV positive mothers are tested at birth for HIV infection and started on antiretroviral medicine immediately, they are then retested at six weeks of age and one year or six weeks after the child has been weaned completely.
All couples planning on having children are urged to have HIV tests done before conception in order to prepare adequately. Let us together, reduce the number of babies and infants contracting the HIV virus through mother to child transmission.
For more information on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding with HIV email 990health@ champ.org.zm