Photo: James Nesbitt/UNICEF
This photograph originally appeared as part of a slideshow on HNN
As much of the public health world turns its attention to the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, we thought it important to talk about PMTCT, the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV.
Inonge Siamalambo is a primary school teacher. Two years ago, when pregnant with her second child Elson, she visited Lusaka's Chelstone Clinic for prenatal care. A routine test showed that she was living with HIV.
In 2008, throughout Zambia, 64 percent of prenatal clinics provided HIV testing and medicine to pregnant women living with the virus and their families. Chelstone Clinic was among them. Siamalambo began treatment there while pregnant to reduce her baby's risk of acquiring HIV.
An HIV test at the first prenatal visit is essential to protect the health of women and their babies. It becomes difficult to prevent transmission nearer birth, says Laurie Garrett, a global health researcher at the Council of Foreign Relations. In 2009, however, fewer than a third of pregnant women in the developing world were tested for the virus.
After receiving her diagnosis, Siamalambo was taught how to administer the antiretroviral medicines to her new son Elson that should protect him from HIV. Now, medicines can reduce an infant's risk of contracting HIV from breast milk from 9.5 percent to 5.4 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Without antiretroviral treatment, about 11 percent of infants contract HIV from breast-feeding, according to UNICEF.
Siamalambo fed her son only with breast milk—the best food for a newborn—until he was six months old. In the past, mother-to-child transmission prevention programs asked all mothers to feed their babies with formula, but researchers found that practice can put infants in danger of fatal diarrhea if the available drinking water isn't clean.
In this photograph, Nurse Scolastica Mumba, left, again tests Elson at 12 months, which is a standard part of follow-up care for babies receiving preventive treatment.
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