OMUTHIYA - The myth that sleeping with a virgin or baby will cure HIV, is an alarming contributing factor to the number of HIV positive children.
This was one of the concerns candidly deliberated upon when various stakeholders gathered at the Omuthiya Constituency councillor's office to discuss challenges facing the district's health sector and subsequently propose solutions.
Major issues highlighted include adolescents with high [HIV] viral load, home deliveries, index testing and defaulter tracing.
Statistics provided by the Omuthiya District Hospital show that 198 women gave birth at home so far in 2019. This is an alarming number as it was reported that 14 percent of these women are living with HIV. Additionally, 2.5 percent of these instances are stillbirths or premature births. HIV positive women giving birth at home is catastrophic as this increases the risk of women to child transmission. Especially at a time when the World Health Organisation has set a goal to reduce the number of children born with HIV by 2020.
According to Simeon Ivula, the headman of Oshifukwa village in Oshikoto Region, culture and tradition play a role in influencing women to opt for home deliveries. "Some women have successfully given birth at home in the past. They say that if 'I did it before with all my other children, why should I go to the hospital now'? But their circumstances in the past were different as they did not have HIV, circumstances have changed." It was also highlighted that because of a lack of maternity facilities at various health centres, home births are inevitable. Regional government and councillors are urged to lobby for the construction of a home shelter. This shelter will accommodate pregnant women who are near their due date, once the soon-to-be mother begins contractions, she will then be moved to the maternity ward.
Health officials are concerned about adolescents with HIV as statistics indicate that these teenagers have a high viral load. One reason mentioned is that because of a lack of high schools in most villages, parents are forced to send their children to schools far away from home. These schools however, do not have hostel facilities. These teens are then forced to construct ghettos as shelter. Due to a lack of food and responsibility, these teenagers do not take their medicine consistently and thus fail to repress the virus resulting in a high viral load.
Petrus Hawene, the primary health care supervisor from the Omuthiya District Hospital says despite the success of testing and putting infected patients on treatment, some however, default on taking the ARV. Hawene narrated an incident whereby an HIV positive woman and her positive baby stopped collecting their ARV.
Due to the fact that the husband warned her not to travel to the hospital to receive her medication. "When we went to the house, the husband chased us away. But a few years later, the same woman returned to the hospital. She had a new born baby who was also HIV positive. Now she has two children born with HIV and this could have been avoided," stated Hawene. Information dissemination by village headmen, teacher involvement, construction of home shelters, more health workers employed are some of the solutions proposed at the meeting.