The 2020 report on the progress towards the ‘Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free’ targets reveal that over 5,500 children, aged 14 years and below, contracted HIV from their mothers either during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding. This shows an increase of 1,500 in the number of children contracting HIV from their mothers, from the 4,000 infections that the health ministry recorded in 2018.
The framework of the report was based on three basic concepts; the first concept being to ensure that all babies are born free of HIV through eliminating vertical transmission (mother-to-child); the second being to prevent adolescent girls and young women from acquiring HIV as they grow up; and the third concept being to ensure that children and adolescents who acquire HIV are accorded the right to be identified, treated and cared for in a timely manner, with access to optimal antiretroviral (ARVs) therapy so that they can remain AIDS-free.
“Among the focus countries, 38,000 new infections occurred because women living with HIV did not receive antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy and 29,000 because women dropped out of antiretroviral therapy, either during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. A further 30,000 children were infected because women acquired HIV while pregnant or breastfeeding,” the report notes.
It further stated that eliminating new HIV infections attributable to women not receiving treatment, requires diagnosing and providing antiretroviral therapy for 150,000 more pregnant women.
“Women living with HIV should preferably be receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy before conception. Ideally, to minimize vertical transmission, women living with HIV should be diagnosed, treated and should have suppressed viral loads from the time of conception to the end of the breastfeeding period and for the rest of their lives,” the report further notes.
Dora Kiconco, Executive Director UGANET, said that the increase in new infections among children may very well be because of the stigma born out of HIV-related criminalization and the unsupportive environment for HIV-positive new mothers.
“There have been various stories from women living with HIV, who were worried about their lives, their livelihoods and being criminalized. To a large extent, this HIV-related criminalization increased stigma among mothers,” said Kiconco.
She further noted the several cases of intimate partner violence, noting that mothers who tested positive and revealed their status to their partners were violated and/or abandoned by their husbands.