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UNICEF Executive Director launches innovative approach to the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission in Kenya


NAIROBI, - UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake joined the Kenya Government and other partners on Friday to roll out an innovative approach to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies (PMTCT). The initiative includes a combination of interventions and supplies such as a “Mother-Baby-Pack” of antiretroviral drugs and antibiotics, which women can easily administer at home.

The “Mother-Baby-Pack” is part of the government’s Maisha MTCT-free Zone Initiative. This innovative programme is designed to help virtually eliminate mother-to-child-transmission of HIV and pediatric AIDS by 2013 in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, where about half of all Kenyan children with HIV live, and by 2015 in the entire country. Without treatment, around half of all children born with HIV will die before their second birthday.

Mr. Lake commended the Kenya government for its commitment to take innovative steps to expand and strengthen the quality of PMTCT services. “Maisha" means “Life” in Kiswahili, and I can think of no better way to describe a programme with the potential to save so many lives. The Maisha Initiative is a significant step forward towards our common goal of virtually eliminating mother to child transmission in Kenya,” he said.

The roll-out in Kenya of the “Mother-Baby Pack” marks the beginning of a phased implementation in four countries, including also Cameroon, Lesotho and Zambia. It is scheduled to run through mid-2011. During this initial phase, UNICEF and its partners will closely monitor the acceptance of the pack by women, as well as the quality of supply and distribution.

The “Mother-Baby-Pack” was developed by UNICEF in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners including UNITAID. Health workers in antenatal clinics will distribute the packs to pregnant women living with HIV, but do not yet need antiretroviral treatment for their own health. The initiative is designed to reach pregnant women who have tested positive for HIV, but who might not otherwise return to a clinic following their diagnosis.

The Maisha Initiative further aims at increasing the number of deliveries with assistance from skilled birth attendants through intensified follow up of pregnant women by community health workers, and by supporting the roll out of a Health Services Support Fund. The Fund provides incentives to health facilities that improve their performance and reach more pregnant women, especially in remote communities.

The initiative also includes a number of elements intended to bridge the gaps in Kenya’s PMTCT programme, including engaging Mentor Mothers to support pregnant women living with HIV; introducing a more streamlined Early Infant Diagnosis strategy including SMS technology to increase rates of children who are tested soon after birth and have early access to treatment if needed; and encouraging stronger involvement of pregnant women’s male partners through Behaviour Change Communication.

The initiative is being supported financially by a number of partners including the US Government, UNICEF National Committees, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Mothers-to-Mothers (M2M) programme.
While the adult HIV prevalence rate in Kenya is on a steady decline, there are still some 22,000 new infections annually among infants through mother-to-child transmission. Overall, some 1.4 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in Kenya, including some 81,000 pregnant women.

Kenya has made important progress in scaling up its PMTCT programmes over the past years -- with services being offered in 4,000 out of almost 4,500 antenatal care centres in the country (according to the latest data). Despite this progress, the number of pregnant women actually receiving ARVs for PMTCT stagnated at around 58,600 in 2009, which indicates that these services are still out of reach for many women.

A further scale up of PMTCT services has been hampered by low utilization of antenatal care services, with less than a half of all pregnant women actually completing four antenatal care visits before giving birth and more than a half of pregnant women giving birth at home. Other factors hindering scale-up of prevention of mother to child transmission services is that a third of all pregnant women living with HIV and AIDS still receive less efficacious drug regimens; and that babies born to mothers with HIV/AIDS are often not tested early-on. The survival chances of a child born with HIV are much higher if antiretroviral treatment is initiated soon after birth.


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