“Every day, nearly 1000 babies in sub-Sarahan Africa are infected with HIV,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director. Without treatment, half will die before their second birthday. 90% get the virus from their mothers during pregnancy, labour and breast-feeding.
But a programme, known as Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission or PMTCT, has the potential to virtually eradicate this risk, saving thousands of lives. It is arguably the most effective prevention and treatment tool available to control the spread of the disease.
In South Africa, three thousand health centres currently offer PMTCT services. According to the new guidelines announced by President Jacob Zuma last year, preventive treatment is given at 14 weeks of pregnancy for those women who have a CD4 count above 350, while those with a CD4 count of 350 and below are eligible for life-long anti-retroviral medication.
However, recent studies show that about 75 000 children under the age of five die in South Africa each year. This means that about 200 South African children die every day, mainly due to HIV.
These deaths are entirely preventable under PMTCT, but it depends on mothers knowing their HIV status. While ante-natal clinics routinely offer counseling and testing to all pregnant women, fear is still the biggest obstacle to the programme’s success, as many people view the virus as death sentence.
For the first time in the history of HIV/AIDS, there is a very real possibility of achieving an AIDS-free generation. Despite the overwhelming success of PMTCT programme, stigma still means that women can wind up living with risk and denial, rather than taking steps that could protect their lives and their babies. Health-e decided to explore the issues faced by women or parents living with HIV, and what influences their choices when it comes to protecting their unborn children from the disease.
This documentary follows the intimate journey of two HIV positive pregnant women, from giving birth through to their babies’ ten-week HIV test. These two brave mothers speak candidly about their feelings of guilt, uncertainty, and determination to save the lives of their babies.