Maputo — Almost all HIV-positive pregnant Mozambican women, treated at the Dream Centres run by the Italian NGO, the Sant’Egidio Community, give birth to babies who are not infected by the virus.
Sant’Egidio has been running this programme for the past decade, and says that the pregnant women it has treated have given birth to around 10,000 healthy babies, free of the virus. The number of HIV-positive babies born in the centres in this period was “almost zero”.
The Dream (Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition) Centres specialize in preventing “vertical transmission” (the transmission of HIV from a pregnant woman to her unborn child). The combination of anti-retroviral drugs that they administer to the women almost eliminates vertical transmission.
Sant’Egidio’s claim coincides with this year’s celebration of World AIDS Day on 1 December, under the theme of “getting to zero” – i.e. progress towards eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015.
On Saturday, at an event marking World AIDS Day in the southern district of Boane, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza said the number of health units that have the means to prevent vertical transmission rose from 909 in 2009, to 1,014 in 2010, to 1,063 this year.
“We cannot allow that something as precious as life is lost because of a phenomenon that is socially, morally and culturally controllable”, said Guebuza. “We cannot remain indifferent when the AIDS pandemic threatens social and economic stability, our sovereignty and state security”.
But thousands of HIV-positive babies are still born in Mozambique, largely because their mothers were not tested for HIV before they gave birth, and so received no anti-retroviral treatment.
Large numbers of women, particularly in rural Mozambique, do not attend ante-natal consultations and continue to give birth under potentially dangerous conditions at home, rather than in the safe environment of a health unit.
The estimate from the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is that every day 85 babies are infected with HIV during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
Almost half the children who contract HIV from their mothers die before they are two years old – a tragedy that could be avoided if all HIV-positive pregnant women received anti-retroviral treatment.