Drive vs mother-to-child HIV infection launched

The message is from a promotional banner printed in time for the launching of the “Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV Infection” (PMTCT) program.

The government-run Davao Medical Center has piloted the program to prevent infection of HIV-AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) from mothers to their children.

To pilot it in Mindanao, DMC's HIV-AIDS Core Team (HACT) and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology cooperated with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unique) amid a growing concern of an increasing number of children living with HIV-AIDS after being infected by their mothers.

Dr. Alicia Layug, HACT head, said testing for pregnant women and their husbands will be free. DMC charges P350 for walk in test clients.

The Department of Health launched the program Wednesday to address primary prevention of HIV infection among pregnant mothers.

The program sought to pursue prevention by integrating HIV information, voluntary counseling, and HIV testing as part of the ante-natal package.

The program also seeks integration of the antiretroviral (ARV) preventive procedure (prophylaxis), and infant feeding counseling to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

The program focuses on group pretest education on HIV, individual pre and post test counseling, voluntary counseling and HIV testing, ARV procedure and treatment of HIV mothers and babies, breastfeeding counseling, diagnosis of HIV infection in infants and children, referrals and follow up care and support, and couple counseling.

DOH said the program upholds confidentiality of the patients.

Dr. Marinus Gotink, chief of the UNICEF's Philippine Office Health and Nutrition, said the focus on women and children now is brought by the advent of technology. Before, programs on AIDS prevention and control were focused only on men as they have problems with tools for testing infants.

Dr. Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial, DOH regional director, said no mother-to-baby infection has been reported in the region.

As of May 2007, there have been 765 cases of full-blown AIDS cases all over the country, or 27 percent of the 2,857 infected with HIV, according to the Philippine National HIV/AIDS Registry. About 87 percent of these got the HIV through sexual intercourse. Only 1.5 percent, or 44 cases, were attributed to mother-to-child transmission.

The figures, however, project the number of reported cases only as a bigger portion of those infected are apparently not reported, the DOH said. The 2005 Consensus Report on HIV Estimates put the figures at 11,168 people living with HIV, mostly from ages 15 to 49.

Dr. Ma. Elena Borromeo, of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said they are trying to prevent the social impact of AIDS considering that those at risk of infection are people in their most productive years.

She cited mandatory testing for overseas Filipino workers as required by host countries, saying OFWs, as well as men having sex with men, are among those highly at risk.

She said at present 30 to 40 percent of babies born to women living with HIV are infected but it could be reduced with the program.

Layug said not one of the 90 pregnant women who volunteered to be tested at the DMC was HIV positive in a pre-program study they made in January. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)