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November 20, 2018

Nurses strike drove up HIV infection of children

Dr Eliud Mwangi, the country director for Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, speaks at the Nascop conference yesterday
Dr Eliud Mwangi, the country director for Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, speaks at the Nascop conference yesterday

The number of children born with HIV increased to 8,500 last year because of the five-month nurses strike.

This means 11 per cent of all children born to HIV positive mothers were infected.

With proper treatment of pregnant mothers and care during delivery, nearly all babies can be born HIV negative and remain uninfected.

Kenya was making considerable progress, having reduced the number of babies born with HIV from 13,000 in 2012, to 6,600 or 8 per cent in 2015. The country was aiming to break global target of five per cent last year, before the figures shot up.

“This means 20 children are born with HIV everyday, yet these infections are completely preventable,” Dr Eliud Mwangi, the country director for Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation, a global NGO with offices in Nairobi, said.

The rise also increases Kenya’s treatment burden because the children must be put on the life-long medicine.

The increased HIV infections is one of the ugly aftermaths of the nurses strike, which began in June last year and ended early December.

Last year, the number of unvaccinated children also doubled to 265,523 because immunisation and antenatal care clinics in hospitals are entirely run by nurses.

Medics said this accumulation exposes the population to vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, tetanus and polio.

Nascop deputy head Dr Ruth Mukui said they are now working to bring down the numbers.

Read: Nurses turn down governors offer to end strike, dialogue

“Last year, we were affected by the strikes and many women could not access services in hospitals. But now we have to reduce the HIV infections again,” she said.

Without treatment, the likelihood of HIV passing from mother-to-child rises up to 45 per cent.

In 2015, Cuba became the first ever country to eliminate transmissions and since then, about 10 other countries have eliminated transmissions.

Effective prevention of mother-to-child programmes require women and their infants to have access to a cascade of interventions, including antenatal services and HIV testing during pregnancy.

Others are the use of ART by pregnant women living with HIV, safe childbirth practices and appropriate infant feeding, uptake of infant HIV testing and other post-natal healthcare services.

The Health ministry is expected to heighten programmes such as the Mentor Mother Initiative, which supports and cares for women living with HIV, the mother–baby pair approach, which synchronises appointments for the mother and the child at the health facility, and audits of every child exposed to HIV to identify barriers in accessing health facilities.

Also Read: Nurses end 'long, tedious' strike after deal with government

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