24 July 2017

Cameroon's Struggle to Contain HIV/Aids

Photo: UNICEF
(file photo).

In its efforts to lower the HIV prevalence rate, Cameroon will launch a program where expectant mothers in northern regions of the country can get tested for HIV, and prevent mother to child transmissions.

As DW's Moki Kindzeka reports, the rate of mother to child transmission has rapidly increased in recent times, hence the need for measures to be taken to avert the situation

In the northern regions of Cameroon, babies born with the virus often die before results from their blood samples that have been sent to the capital, Yaounde, return. Yaounde is about 1000 kilometers (620 miles) away from these regions.

Asta Gumaji, 26, welcomes me in Fulfulde language to her one room home in Bamarre, northern Cameroon. She says she has been living with HIV for six years. "I was seriously sick and so was my daughter who could no longer take breast milk. When we went to the hospital, we were told that she needed blood transfusion but we had to take blood tests first," she told DW.

"That is how we got to know that we were HIV positive. We began taking antiretroviral drugs but my husband died shortly after." Asta's dream is to get another partner with the same status like hers so she can get some support to take care of her daughter. "I openly tell them that I am HIV positive and they run away," she proudly said.

New test machines for HIV among babies?

Hourei Issa, the government's focal point in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the northern regions of Cameroon acknowledged that Asta is among women who delivered at home in 2016 and did not know her health status.

"We have been carrying out advocacy programs with traditional birth attendants not to retain women in their communities," he said, adding that and we have also engaged village heads and opinion leaders to know the complications that can arise when women are restricted from going to hospitals. We hope that things will improve this 2017."

Also expected to improve is the time it takes to know the HIV results of babies born in hospitals in the region. There are also plans to start experimenting blood testing machines that diagnose HIV infections in children younger than 18 months. This is intended to ease the burden of transferring samples many miles to the nearest center.

Georgette Wekang, the in charge of HIV control and people living with AIDS under the ministry of health said that the center that carries out HIV tests is in Cameroon's capital Yaounde. "It takes six to seven months for the results to be brought back. At times the results come when the child is already dead.

"There is also the problem of stigmatization that makes women here in the north not to return with their babies to the hospitals for follow up," he told DW. For now, Asta Gumaji and her six-year old daughter can only hope that the health situation in northern Cameroon improves, and a cure for HIV/AIDS can be discovered for them to live a better life.

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