Dar es Salaam. It’s race against time as researchers, policymakers and development stakeholders ponder on the 2021 deadline when Tanzania is expected to have attained the set target of eliminating mother to child transmission of HIV.
The country began offering services on prevention of mother-to- child HIV transmission (PMTCT) 20 years ago yet, currently, nearly one fifth of all new HIV infections in the country are still attributed to mother to child transmission.
Speaking on Wednesday January 29 during the 6th University-wide symposium organised by Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) in collaboration with Sweden to disseminate research findings on PMTCT, researchers suggested that swift interventions must be put in place if Tanzania indeed seeks to attain elimination stage of the public health challenge.
More investment, they urged, should be put in advanced diagnostic tools, improving the workforce in health facilities, educating women on how best to take Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and fighting against stigma in order to attain elimination.
Inspired by the theme: From Prevention towards elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (EMTCT) of HIV, the researchers were upbeat that Tanzania has invested much in PMTCT so far and there were signs it could attain the elimination milestone, however, it fell short in in key areas that actually drive the spread of HIV from a mother to a child.
An expert in new-born health from Muhimbili University of Health and Allies Sciences (Muhas) Dr Augustine Massawe, explained that the road to elimination of MTCT requires the active engagement of the communities, especially the involvement of men.
“There are cases where men have been the reason why HIV positive women don’t take ARVs to protect their new-born babies from HIV,’’ said Dr Massawe, who for over the past two decades has been studying trends in PMTCT in Tanzania.
Cuba became the first country to end MTCT of both HIV and syphilis in 2015. Thailand is the first country with a large HIV epidemic to “ensure an AIDS-free generation,” according to WHO’s Regional Office for South-East Asia.
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) congratulated Sri Lanka for achieving elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and congenital syphilis.
Experts believe that for Tanzania to achieve elimination, a broad range of interventions are still required.
The Chief Executive Officer of Africa Academy of Public Health, Dr Mary Mwanyika said there was a great need to stress on keeping the women free from HIV when they have already given birth, re-testing them throughout, emphasizing on care and treatment and suppressing the virus among those who are already infected.
Muhas’ Associate Professor in Gynaecology and Obstetrics, Charles Kilewo, said more efforts should be put in screening breastfeeding mothers for HIV, as he emphasised on Option B+, an intervention that is touted for most of the country’s notable successes in PMTCT.
A representative from the Ministry of Health, Dr Mukome Nyamuhagata, said the government was keen on improving the capacity of identifying women who are HIV infected and testing their newly born babies as well as reviewing its frameworks to meet the targets of eliminating transmission of HIV to children from their mothers.
“We have been facing a challenge in diagnosing the infants early. The government is now collaborating with stakeholders to set up more improved technology across the country so that more children are diagnosed, and the right interventions are put in place,’’ he said.