LIMITED access to early infant diagnosis (EID) has been hampering efforts to reduce the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission from 14% to less than 5% by 2015, a local health organisation has said.
Families and Communities for the Elimination of Paediatric HIV (Face-Paediatric HIV) said its efforts were also being hampered by the prolonged process of getting the results which discourages mothers from coming with their children for diagnosis.
Policy, Advocacy and Communications manager for Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development (Ophid), Loveness Chimombe-Mlambo said since mother-to-child transmission of HIV has the predominant mode of spreading the disease to children, it was critical to carry out early diagnosis of the virus.
" In Zimbabwe there is limited access to early infant diagnosis, while a child born to an HIV-positive mother is supposed to be tested at six weeks, not all HIV exposed children are turning up for testing at six weeks," she said.
The organisation which seeks to provide 90% of HIV-positive pregnant women in Zimbabwe with anti-retroviral therapy (Art) could well be the one programme that can reduce the incidences of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV and Aids.
The programme was launched in February this year with a US$60 million grant from the United States of America.
Chimombe-Mlambo bemoaned the lengthy time it took to get the results.
"When the child is tested, the results are not available immediately.
Children are tested using Dry Blood Spot. Samples are taken to the National Micro-Biology Reference Laboratory and currently there is only one in Zimbabwe," he said. "The process often takes longer than expected."
She added: "When the results finally come to the clinic, there are also challenges involved in getting the test results to the mother. Partners are working with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to strengthen the transportation of samples and are working closely with village health workers to track the mother to collect the child's results at the clinic."
Face-Paediatric HIV is a consortium headed by Ophid with support from Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation (Egpaf), Southern Africa Aids Information Dissemination Service (SafAids) and JF Kapnek Trust.
Through the Face-Pediatric HIV programme, Ophid and its partners are encouraging all pregnant women to book for antenatal care services at 14 weeks.
"The programme also seeks to strengthen delivery of quality integrated comprehensive PMTCT and Paediatric HIV care, treatment and support services through the Maternal and New Child Health platform in order to prevent the spread of HIV to children, women and their families," said Chimombe-Mlambo.
She also said that by mobilising communities to create demand and increase their uptake of health care services, it would encourage women to deliver their babies at health institutions for their safety and the health of their children.