14 June 2012

Mozambique: Call to Treat All HIV Positive Pregnant Women to Protect Children

Photo: Eskinder Debebe/UN
In the province of Gaza in Southern Mozambique, it has the highest HIV rate in the country of 19.4%. The Day Care Clinic of Zai-Zai opened its doors on 26 November 2002 and provides services to those seeking to improve quality of life of parents and children living with HIV/AIDS

Maputo — Mozambique's First Lady, Maria da Luz Guebuza, on Thursday in Washington said that the biggest challenge in protecting the lives of children lies in the need to provide anti-retroviral drug treatments to all pregnant women who are HIV positive, to prevent the vertical transmission of the virus which causes AIDS to their unborn babies.

Maria da Luz Guebuza was appearing on an expert panel addressing new approaches to ending preventable child deaths, alongside the Director General of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan.

The panel was part of the high level forum convened by the governments of the United States, India and Ethiopia in collaboration with UNICEF on the theme "Child Survival Call to Action", which is taking place on Thursday and Friday at Georgetown University, in Washington.

"Fortunately, all the countries in southern Africa are already implementing programmes to prevent vertical transmission. But the challenge remains to cover all pregnant women with HIV, to avoid the risk of children being born infected", said Mozambique's First Lady.

Maria da Luz Guebuza explained that in Mozambique much has been done to increase coverage, despite a lack of resources. She pointed out that in 2006 only 14 per cent of HIV positive pregnant women were receiving anti-retroviral drugs to reduce the risk of infecting their babies. This figure has now increased to 66 per cent.

The First Lady made clear that in today's world there is no reason why children should continue to be born with HIV or die at a young age because of preventable illnesses.

Of those children who die below the age of five, the majority of deaths are caused by a small number of problems, mainly preventable and treatable illnesses such as diarrhoea, malaria, malnutrition and neonatal complications.

She added that in Mozambique the programme to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child covers the period from pregnancy to after the birth, including during breastfeeding, and is recognised as a priority in all maternal health initiatives. It is part of efforts to reach the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals.

Not only do anti-retroviral drugs reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to babies, but they also keep mothers well and able to look after their children.

The Call to Action challenges the world to reduce child mortality to below 20 child deaths per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035. Reaching this target would save an additional 45 million children's lives between 2010 and 2035, bringing the world closer to the ultimate goal of ending preventable child deaths.

According to Maria da Luz Guebuza, "we consider this meeting an important opportunity to share our experiences and constraints, successes and challenges, and to learn best practices that are implemented in other countries. This will help us identify innovative ways to improve the care of our children".

She also pointed out that in Mozambique the government has undertaken several actions to reduce child mortality. It has built units to house pregnant women awaiting labour, has developed mobile clinics to increase service coverage, and involved a wide scope of people in caring for the health of women and children.

Currently, Mozambique has a child mortality rate of 97 deaths per 1,000 live births. Although still unacceptably high, the rate has more than halved over the last fifteen years.

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