Nigeria may record a significant surge in the number of infants with HIV as more than 63 percent of positive women are not accessing the critical services to prevent babies from acquiring the virus during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding stage, findings have shown.
Findings from the National AIDS and STIs Control Programme (NASCP) also reveals that three out of four pregnant women do not show up for Antenatal Care (ANC) services, and one out of three pregnant women are not on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) services to prevent newborns from acquiring HIV.
In 2020, Nigeria recorded an estimated 22,000 new HIV infections among children according to the report which was presented by Olugbenga Ijaodola, Assistant Director, National PMTCT and Lead at the National AIDs & STIs Control Programme (NASCP), Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH).
He disclosed these at a three-day Media Dialogue to reinvigorate and produce a work plan for members of the Journalists Alliance for the Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (JAPIN) in Calabar, Cross River State.
Available also data shows that more than 90 percent of infant and young child infections occur through mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) either during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding.
With only 37 percent of positive women accessing HIV services and care, Ijaodola said the number may increase, which will stall progress to eliminate the transmission of the virus from mothers to children.
According to him, some of the reasons why women are not captured in PMTCT services is due to the lack of data, poor access to health facilities, the poor state of health facilities especially in rural areas, poverty, and poor funding.
The assistant director said many women do not have confidence in the health fatalities and often resort to traditional methods of childbirth. He said about 59 percent of pregnant women in Nigeria still deliver at home which constitutes an automatic factor that excludes them from the needed HIV preventive services.
Ijaodola also said the lack of confidence in the health care provision system is due to the negative attitude of care workers. He added that poor health-seeking behaviour among citizens also contributes to the low patronage of health facilities.
Speaking further, he said the cost of delivery at health facilities is often out of reach for some women due to the economic situation in the country, which has reduced the purchasing power of citizens.
“Also, the challenge of having a comprehensive data reporting system remains. What we do is assumptions and estimates, and without data, there’s absolutely nothing we can do,” he added.
The assistant director said except efforts are intensified to reach more women and capture them in the PMTCT services which are domiciled in public health facilities, Nigeria will continue to have poor outcome.
Often, HIV is transmitted from an HIV-positive woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT), which is also known as ‘vertical transmission’.
If a pregnant woman is living with HIV the likelihood of the virus passing from mother-to-child is up to 45 percent. However, antiretroviral treatment (ART) and other interventions can reduce this risk to below 5 percent
The PMTCT programmes offers a range of services for women of reproductive age living with or at risk of HIV to maintain their health and stop their infants from acquiring HIV. Services are offered before conception, and throughout pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding.
They include early infant diagnosis at four to six weeks after birth, testing at 18 months and/or when breastfeeding ends, and ART initiation as soon as possible for HIV-exposed infants to prevent HIV acquisition. Under this programme pregnant wen are placed on ARTs daily.
Ijaodola further revealed that Uganda is currently at the second stage of eliminating MTCT of HIV and may be the first country in Africa to eliminate it.
Available data shows that Uganda has achieved an 86 percent reduction in HIV infections among children since 2009, with 95 percent of women living with HIV accessing antiretroviral medicines to prevent MTCT.
Moreso, mother-to-infant transmission rates are now below 5 percent in several countries including Ethiopia, South Africa, and Tanzania, and are moving towards the criteria for elimination of MTCT, defined in part by lowering new HIV cases to fewer than 50 per 100,000 live births.
To improve Nigeria’s outcome, Ijaodola said the country must work towards eliminating user fees for pregnant women “by strengthening the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS)/State Health Insurance Schemes (SHIS) to include PMTCT/Reproductive Maternal New-born Child Adolescent Health plus Nutrition (RMNCAH) into the benefits package, using the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF).”
“What determines the wealth of every nation is how you take care of women and children,” he stressed.
He called on governments at the sub-national level to ensure their intervention through the procurement of Rapid Test Kits (RTK) for HIV testing.
He announced plans by federal deploying 2.5 million testing kits in federal and state health care Institutions.
Ijaodola further informed that the federal government has acquired 2.5 million dual test kits, which is capable of testing both HIV and Syphilis in pregnant women.
Etana Ewa, chief Consultant and an Associate Professor in Infectious Disease and Respiratory, at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital lamented that HIV/AIDS is a major cause of infant and childhood mortality and morbidity in Africa.
Ewa also advised those on HIV Anti Retroviral drugs to take seriously their medication and should stop the habit of stopping their drugs halfway when they feel fine after some time of treatment.
Globally, out of the estimated 37.9 million persons living with HIV/AIDS, 1.8 million are children under 15 years. In Nigeria, more than 1.8 million persons live with HIV.