By Meluse Kapatamoyo
MWANA, a health initiative aimed at improving the prevention of HIV transmission from mother to child has been launched to bridge the gap between Zambia’s national testing laboratories and rural community health care workers.
Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV has been proven effective when all guidelines are adhered to and it could be better when test results are made available within a short timeframe.
“By getting HIV infant test results into the hands of mothers in less than half the time it used to take, programme Mwana (Child) has broken through one of the bottlenecks in preventing HIV (transmission) among infants,” said UNICEF Zambia deputy representative, Shaya Asindua.
Developed and tested with the help of community health workers, local mobile service providers, software developers and several other partners, the programme uses a RapidSMS based mobile health system to deliver the results from reference laboratories to the facility using Short Messaging Service.
An infant born with HIV needs to be diagnosed and put on ARV treatment within 12 weeks of birth if it is to have any chance of survival.
The Ministry of Health and UNICEF launched Mwana (Child) on 17th November 2011 with an aim of reducing time taken to get the HIV test results to mothers and caregivers, thereby preventing mother to child HIV transmission.
In 2010, over 35,000 infants had early diagnostic testing using HIV DNA PCR technology compared to 19, 040 the previous year due to long delays in getting back the results to the caregivers, states data from the ministry of health. The results showed an improvement of turn-around times of test results delivery by 30 percent to 60 percent, with a larger impact in rural facilities. There was also an improved oversight of the test system and strengthened linkages among health facilities, community health workers and caregivers.
Dr Peter Mwaba, the ministry’s Permanent Secretary said that despite major strides having been made in expanding Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) services in Zambia, about 30 per cent of infants who contract HIV from their mothers die before the age of one, while a further 50 per cent die before the age of two if no interventions are provided.
“These deaths contribute significantly to the national under-five mortality rate. Survival rates are up to 75 percent higher for HIV-Positive newborns that are diagnosed and begin treatment within their first 12 weeks of life,” Dr. Mwaba added.
Mwana was piloted in Zambia in 2010, in 31 clinics, 13 districts spread in six provinces. Mwana collaborating partners include Boston University affiliate, The Zambia Centre for Applied Health Research and Development (ZCHARD), the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Zambia Prevention, Care and Treatment Partnership.