The Government is set to launch the UN World Health Organisation's (WHO) Option B+ life-prolonging drug to boost the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT). Zimbabwe uses a PMTCT system which involves single-dose antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for the mother - if her CD4 count, a measure of immune system strength, is over 350 - from the 14th week, as well as ARVs during labour, delivery and one week post-partum. Pregnant women with CD4 counts below 350 are advised to start taking ARVs for their own health.
Speaking at a pre-launch media workshop held on Friday in the capital to sensitise the media about the new drug, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) technical advisor Dr Tichaona Nyamundaya said the introduction of the new drug was part of a global plan aimed at eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping mothers alive.
He said the new global campaign intended to reduce the number of new HIV infections in children by 90 percent and HIV-related maternal deaths by 80 percent. Health experts say poor access to anti-retroviral drugs (ART) for pregnant women disproportionately affects women and children living in areas away from ART sites or in settings with weak health systems.
Dr Nyamundaya said Option B+ was envisioned that it would enable women to access ART at high levels even in settings with poor access to CD4 testing. Option B+, he said, was part of a broader strategy in which ART and PMTCT programmes fully integrated with one another so that ART could be administered by nurses at primary health care facilities which women and children were already accessing.
"It will be one regiment for multiple infections such as tuberculosis and the treatment can be started at primary care health facilities, reducing the distance that women have to travel to receive treatment under Option A the current drug which is used under ART," said Dr Nyamundaya.
"Maximum reduction risks from treatment interruption and simplification of services for all adults is one of the key features of this new drug."
Option B+ - which WHO introduced alongside Option A in 2010 - involves triple therapy ARVs from the 14th week of pregnancy until one week after breastfeeding has ended, which can be up to one year.
Option B+ programmes involve providing the same triple ARV drugs to all HIV-infected pregnant women beginning in the antenatal clinic setting, and continuing the therapy for the rest of their lives.