A new study to assess the impact of interventions to stop HIV-AIDS transmission by mothers to their unborn or newly born babies, has revealed pregnant adolescent and young mothers are facing an increased risk of passing the virus to their unborn or newly born babies.
The US Ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown made the revelation this week, May 31, at the launch of the study findings at the Headquarters of the Ministry of Health in Kampala.
Ambassador Brown said: “From January to March 2022, pregnant adolescent girls and young women accounted for 51% (1,997) of mothers newly identified as having HIV.”
The main study was conducted from 2017 to 2019, to assess the impact of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) investments.
About a million babies are born in Uganda every year, according to recent Census statistics.
The US government is the leading supporter to Uganda’s HIV/AIDS response and says it has invested over US$4billion in Uganda. Among the areas of focus for the American assistance is the goal of eliminating all cases of mother to child HIV transmission through ensuring that all HIV positive pregnant women are put on anti-retroviral treatment.
While this newspaper has yet to obtain the detailed figures of the main study, the Ambassador’s revelations suggest that in the three months referred to, close to 4000 pregnant women were found to have HIV/AIDS.
However, Ambassador Brown says Uganda’s goal of eliminating mother to child transmission is being impeded by lack of access to critical HIV/AIDS services such as testing at lower level health facilities such as Health Centres II and III.
She said: “Access to quality antenatal care and HIV services is another challenge identified by the PMTCT Impact Evaluation. While PMTCT programs are available throughout Uganda, barriers remain a critical challenge, especially for those mothers who only receive care from lower-level health centers. Only two-thirds of infants born to mothers living with HIV receive an HIV test within the first two months of life.”
Ambassador Brown called for the government’s increased investment in provision of quality antenatal care and effective HIV/AIDS testing and treatment services.
She said: “The roles of Health Centre IIs and IIIs need to be defined, PMTCT services need to be where the clients are, and strong referral systems should ensure all can access quality care. Most importantly, Honorable Minister, increased MOH investments are needed toward ensuring that all women receive both quality antenatal care and effective HIV testing and treatment services.”
Despite the drawbacks, PMTCT has been hailed for reducing the number of babies who contract HIV from their mothers over the past 20 years.
The study for example shows that in 2003, HIV transmission to infants was as high as 18% but has declined dramatically to 2%.
“The access to HIV prevention and Maternal and Child Health (MCH) services including; Ante Natal Care attendance, HIV testing and viral load testing for women with HIV, Care for HIV exposed infants, early infant testing, and navirapine prophylaxis have significantly improved,” the Ministry of Health said.
Also, the study found that HIV transmission to infants was lower among mothers who delivered in government facilities (1.3%) compared to those who didn’t deliver in government facilities. Infections were higher among mothers who delivered in private clinics (3.7%) and 4.6% among mothers who delivered at home.
“Mothers who were assisted by an unskilled birth attendant were more likely to have HIV-infected babies,” said the Ministry.
Click HERE to read Ambassador Natalie’s Full Speech