Health experts say innocent babies are dying every day because their mothers are reluctant to get tested on time to avoid transmission of the virus to their unborn babies.
Currently, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in collaboration with other Aids organisations have embarked on a programme to encourage people to be tested for HIV and Aids, especially pregnant mothers, to avoid unnecessary suffering and deaths of children.
But it appears this is falling on deaf ears as most people are reluctant to get tested, especially when they feel physically fit. Health officials who spoke to StandardHealth&Fitness last week said most women who go for pregnant registration do so when their pregnancies are at advanced stages, which put their unborn babies at risk. The majority of the women, they said, would be getting tested for the first time.
"Every Wednesday we carry out pregnancy registration and almost three quarters of the women who visit us have never been tested before. For instance, on 17 August 2011, out of 20 pregnant women, only two of them had been tested before," said a nurse who identified himself only as Matehwe.
Matehwe, who works at a clinic in Harare added: "The sad part is that most of them were seven months (pregnant) and above, which poses a great danger to the unborn child."
He urged husbands to support their wives, especially during pregnancy.
"Men need to do away with their attitude of shunning away from health institutions," he said. "There is need for them to accompany their wives, especially for registration so that in cases of being diagnosed HIV-positive, they can comfort each other and receive counselling together."
He said both parents must take responsibility of their children. If a woman is found to be HIV-positive, he said, it is advisable that she gets treatment immediately to protect the baby.
At times, said Matehwe, pregnant women abandoned the registration process as soon they realised that they would be tested for HIV and Aids. This clearly shows the need to create awareness on the importance of getting tested.
Fear of the consequences of testing positive holding women back
Lucia Taizivei (26) of Chitungwiza, who is seven months pregnant and has not been tested, fears the implications of testing HIV-positive, even though she has not been promiscuous.
"It's not an easy thing to do," she said. "How can I tell my husband that I am HIV-positive? From my own knowledge, he has not been tested yet and this will definitely lead to our separation as we will blame each other."
Taizivei however said she would get tested in the near future to avoid endangering the life of her child, despite her fears.
"I think the best way to ensure that pregnant women get tested is to first create awareness among men because in most cases they are the ones who are thick-headed."
Dr Angela Mushavi, a Paediatrics HIV Care and Treatment Co-coordinator in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare said 30% of children who are born HIV-positive and do not receive treatment die in the first year of their lives while 50% die in the second year.
"When children are born HIV-positive, they develop pneumonia which is a very dangerous and life- threatening disease," said Mushavi. "Their immune system will be depressed and will have diarrhoea frequently, as well as vomiting. They will not gain weight."
Mushavi, who is also the national co-ordinator for Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTC) programme, urged women to get tested as soon as they fall pregnant.
"As soon as a pregnant mother tests positive, her CD4 count is checked and if it is below 250, she is immediately put on treatment which assists to lower the viral load," said Mushavi. "This is good for the health of the mother as well as the baby."
According to the latest WHO guidelines on PMTC, when a pregnant mother tests HIV-positive, she would start to take Zidovudine when she is about 14 weeks pregnant until the onset of labour to protect the baby from being infected.
Previous guidelines said mothers were put on treatment when 28 weeks pregnant while a child would be put on treatment for one week soon after birth.
The revised guidelines say a baby is given a dose of Nevirapine until it is weaned off.
Source: Zimbabwe Standard (Harare, Zimbabwe)