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Government rolls out plan to save babies from HIV

Sep 11, 2012 Written by  Agatha Ayebazibwe

A new plan to save millions of newborn Ugandans from HIV will be launched today, representing a new frontier in the fight against Aids.
Under the new ‘Option B+’ plan, pregnant women living with HIV, the virus which causes Aids, will receive treatment early enough to prolong their lives and help them prevent transmitting the virus to babies.

If implemented countrywide, it could reduce the number of newborn babies who get infected through their mothers during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding by more than 23,000. At least 25,000 babies are infected with HIV/Aids every year through mother-to-child transmission.

The Option B+ will involve mothers being given treatment at 14 weeks of pregnancy to six weeks after the baby has been delivered.

Immediately after the baby is born, they will be given the syrup, which is also under the Mother/baby package for another six weeks, after which treatment for the baby will stop but the mother will continue with normal antiretroviral treatment.

Nevirapine, which has been the main treatment course given to women on the onset of labour and to the baby after delivery, is no longer considered effective in preventing vertical transmission of HIV/Aids.

At least 25,000 packs of drugs estimated at $2.5 million (Shs6.2 billion) have already been bought with funding from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to roll out the new plan.

Under this Option B+ plan, each mother-baby care package will cost Shs767,500.

The countrywide programme will begin at all health facilities in Kampala, Wakiso, Rakai, Mayuge, Kayunga, Mubende, Masaka, Kalangala, Nakasongola, Butambala and Gomba.

This is because in the 2011 HIV/Aids indicator survey, the districts registered the highest prevalence rates.

Speaking at a media dialogue on paediatric HIV in Uganda, the programme officer for PMTCT at the Ministry of Health, Dr Linda Nabitaka, said the new treatment regimen will prevent mothers from transmitting infection to their unborn babies during pregnancy or at birth.

“Option B+ is lifelong treatment which will be given to all HIV positive pregnant mothers at 14 weeks of pregnancy without considering whether their CD4 count is still high or not,” said Dr Nakitaka.

This shift in policy was considered in April this year after studies suggested that early treatment to HIV pregnant women reduced the risk of transmission to the baby by more than 50 per cent.

The new treatment of a single ART tablet taken daily will treat the HIV positive mother as well as protect the baby from acquiring the infection from the mother.

This story first appeared in the Daily Monitor Newspaper

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