Charles Lyons: President of Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation
Tanzania’s national HIV prevalence is 5.7 per cent with over 1.4 million people living with HIV – over half of whom women.
But one person with over eight years experience of fighting the scourge in Tanzania says it is possible to reduce the large number of infants being born HIV positive in the country.
He is Charles Lyons, President of the Washington-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF).
He says in the United States very few infants are born HIV –positive because of interventions to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV.
“I know that this success is possible to replicate around the globe, including Tanzania,” Lyons said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian.
He said by last year, the foundation had covered more than 1.5 million women in Tanzania in a bid to prevent mother –to-child HIV transmission.
According to Lyons, the Ariel Glaser Pediatric Aids Healthcare Initiative (AGPAHI), an independent organization closely linked with his foundation is positioned to expand and improve these programmes and to do so with a deep understanding of particular needs of Tanzania.
Lynos added that while AGPAHI is new, its experienced leadership has worked to support the country’s ministry of health and social welfare over the last eight years. the leaders are the experts in the field of which they have valuable experience, have built solid relationships, have strong systems in place and prepared to continue the work funded by the centres for disease control.
He added that EGPAF has a strong investment in the success of the Ariel Glaser Pediatric Aids Health Initiative in Tanzania and to other independent organizations in sub Saharan Africa.
“We are supporting a network of independent affiliates in Mozambique, Cote D’lvoire, and South Africa and will link those to AGPAHI to build a strong community of organizations with a shared mission toward elimination of Pediatric Aids,” he explained.
He said that AGAPAHI and EGPAHI will work together to share lessons learned, strengthen processes and data, document best practices and continuously build technical and operational capacity.
Oh his part the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare during the launching of AGPAHI Dr Lucy Nkya said that the National HIV prevalence of 5.7 per cent was too high and should not be tolerated.
“We need to work together closely to ensure people living with HIV get access to treatment, we need to make effective prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMCT) services available to women who need them so we are able to protect the health of mothers and dramatically reduce the number of new infections in children,” the deputy minister explained.
She added that to maintain and sustain the momentum of providing PMCT, the government of Tanzania had formulated a policy that aimed at ensuring that every pregnant woman attending Antenatal Care Clinic is tested for HIV.
Nkya also said that the ministry of health had developed important guidelines that are used by health care workers at all levels of health care systems in the country.
“In that regard we are seeing several achievements and success in PMCT services whereby the number of people living with HIV receiving treatment has been increasing since 2004 while HIV pregnant positive women receiving services for PMCT has increased from less than 10 per cent in 2004 to over 75 per cent by 2009,”she explained.
Dr Nkya said that the government had set a target to provide services to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV in all health facilities by 2015 of which its an important step toward creating an HIV free generation in Tanzania.
She said that the government of Tanzania recognized EGPAF’s contribution towards different approaches of reducing HIV/AIDS with funding from the United States government; EGPAF has been supporting the ministry of health since 2004.
The deputy minister added that there were challenges that needed to be tackled, including strengthening of health systems so that they have the capacity to deliver the proposed comprehensive package for preventing transmission of HIV from mother to child, including care and treatment for the HIV positive pregnant women.
She noted that identifying and testing HIV exposed infants and children for early access to treatment and care as needed, as well as encouraging men to accompany their wives to antenatal and in particular agree to be tested for HIV together with their wives.
“Let’s also understand that once we save a child from infection during birth, it is equally important to prevent the infection from occurring through breastfeeding while ensuring that the mother will survive to raise her child for we know the best medicine for any child is a healthy mother to take care of her,” Nkya said.
Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (PMCT) programme in the country has so far covered over 1.3 million women. more than 120,000 women have enrolled on care and treatment services out of which nearly 60,000 are on anti-retroviral therapy (ART) through the foundation support.
Linda Kigaya is a 38-year-old single mother, a resident of Shinyanga living with HIV. she says caring for both herself and her one year-old daughter is a load she can barely carry.
“I almost gave up on life following my test,” she says, adding that the initial shock and sense of hopelessness was now behind her.
Linda has experienced economic hardship as a result of being sick and trying to raise her daughter.
“I ran out of cash because the expenses suddenly shot up,” she laments.
Thankfully, Linda is receiving support and counselling through the PMCTC programme piloted by Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation.
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission has been considered as not a simple intervention but a comprehensive set of interventions requiring capable health workers.
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