In an effort to stop new HIV infections among children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) is joining forces with the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support the DRC's Ministry of Health to establish a solid foundation for delivery of high-quality HIV services in the country.
The new five-year program, titled the Malamu Project, will initially focus on initiating prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services at sites in Kinshasa and integrating sexual and gender-based violence screening and referral into routine PMTCT services.
"We are grateful for the support of both the CDC and the Ministry of Health," said Dr. John Ditekemena, Country Director for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in the DRC. "This collaboration will help to provide much needed HIV services and improve the lives of countless women, children, and families in the country."
More than one million people in DRC are estimated to be living with HIV, 70 percent of whom have little or no access to healthcare. According to 2011 Government statistics, just 5.6 percent of HIV-positive pregnant Congolese women receive ARVs to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies, while mother-to-child transmission of HIV is estimated to be 36.8 percent. According to UNICEF, 18,000 new HIV infections in children were recorded in 2010. With a 1.8 percent rate of HIV among pregnant Congolese women ages 15 to 49, PMTCT and HIV services have become lifesaving interventions.
"The Democratic Republic of Congo is confronting the HIV pandemic in the country directly and aggressively," said Charles Lyons, President and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. "EGPAF is committed to supporting the government to move closer to the goal of eliminating pediatric AIDS by delivering quality and comprehensive HIV services - including care and treatment for those already infected, and working with health zones to improve the quality of maternal and child health services in general."
The Malamu Project began in September 2011, and supports health facilities and health zones in DRC, as well as the MOH, and fosters the scale-up of PMTCT services.
Funded by the United States Government through the CDC, the Malamu Project will integrate services such as screening for victims of sexual and gender-based violence and referral for surgical treatment, syphilis testing and treatment, and TB screening as part of routine HIV care services.
EGPAF began supporting critical HIV prevention services in the DRC in 2001 by providing funding and technical assistance to PMTCT programs implemented by the Kinshasa School of Public Health and the University of North Carolina. In subsequent years, EGPAF has added support for care and treatment programs, early infant diagnosis, and sexual and gender-based violence services. By 2012, EGPAF supported 126 health facilities in eight of the country's provinces.
Since 2001, EGPAF has provided more than 669,000 women with PMTCT services and tested more than 676,000 pregnant women through EGPAF-supported health facilities.
"EGPAF looks forward to continuing its partnership with CDC in the coming years, with our sights set on supporting the efforts of DRC's Ministry of Health to reach every HIV-positive pregnant woman with services to enable the DRC to attain a generation free of HIV," added Lyons.