Tide turns in Aids war

Estelle Ellis

SOUTH Africa is turning the tide in the fight against HIV/Aids, with the rate of mother-to- child transmission dropping an average 20% for the first time in 10 years – meaning that the infection of about 60000 babies a year is being prevented.

The Department of Health’s first evaluation of its programmes to prevent the transfer of HIV from mothers to children indicates that the transmission rate has been reduced from between 20% and 30% in 2002 to just 3.5% now.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said he was delighted with the outcome, which showed that there were now fewer than 10000 babies on average born with HIV every year. A decade ago, this figure stood at more than 70000.

The study said the Eastern Cape had a 4.7% transmission rate from mother to child in infants tested within the first month – down from 10% in 2009 – and 2% of infants tested at birth were HIV-positive.

But the province’s director for HIV/Aids, Dr Margaret Ntlangula, said that since the study was compiled in 2010 the rate of transmission had decreased further.

“At first, we had a problem with mothers starting the programme late, but we have worked very hard and have managed to reduce the transmission rate even further,” she said.

“Now we are aiming for 0%.”

The study further presented a profile of the typical pregnant patients seen by the Eastern Cape’s clinics:

ýOn average, 30% of mothers tested were HIV-positive;

ýThe average age of mothers was 25 and 75% of them were single;

ýAbout two-thirds admitted that their pregnancy had been unplanned;

ý57% had no access to running water at their houses;

ý62.9% still had pit latrines; and

ý70.8% had left high school between grades 8 and 12.

The study singled out the Eastern Cape as one of the provinces where there was a 7.8% discrepancy between the status of mothers and infants – one of the highest rates in the country.

This group, the study said, presented “a substantial missed opportunity for care as the mothers and infants did not receive ARVs or appropriate counselling”.

The national average was just more than 4%.

Motsoaledi said they were very concerned about these cases. His department would focus on critical repeat testing of pregnant women to manage this, promote the use of condoms during pregnancy and also put more emphasis on testing couples.

Ntlangula said that in the compilation of data for the study, a crucial mistake had been made in putting the rate of mother- to-child-transmission in Nelson Mandela Bay at 4%.

She said this would distort the figures for the rest of the province as well.

“We looked at it and wondered ‘why is Nelson Mandela Bay staying at 4%?’ Then we discovered the mistake.

“We realised there was an error in the way that the data was captured.”

Her department would be working for the rest of the week to “clean up the data and will only then be able to present an accurate figure for Nelson Mandela Bay”.

“We realised that some of our challenges were just in the data,” she said.

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