New Delhi: Every year, 6,500 children are born with HIV in India, according to various estimates. One-third of them die before their first birthday and half of them do not get to see their second.
National AIDS Control Organisation or NACO’s programme, launched 14 years ago, provides utmost care to the women during pregnancy and childbirth. At BJ Medical College in Pune’s Sassoon General Hospital, one of the prime centres where the NACO programme is run; services to detect HIV infection among pregnant women are available on their very first contact with the health system.
A blood pin prick screening to check for haemoglobin, sugar, as well as screening for syphilis and HIV is first performed. Counselling is given to the HIV positive mother to keep her baby safe. She’s also put on anti-retroviral therapy. Babies born to HIV-positive mothers are given a course of drugs after birth as prevention. The final confirmatory test of whether the infant is positive or negative is also done at 18 months.
According to experts, if a woman is not treated, there is over 35 per cent chance of her transmitting the HIV virus to her baby during pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding. However, this risk drops to less than 2 per cent if proper drugs are given.
The doctors say that some women do not come for check-ups during pregnancy and only reach the hospital after they experience labour pains.
Dr Ramesh Bhosale, Professor and Head of Unit, BJ Medical College, said, “We offer them testing immediately in labour room and if they are found to be HIV positive, they are immediately given prophylaxis.”
The biggest challenge of the programme is to reach the 28 million women who become pregnant every year in the country. At present, it reaches 47 per cent of the women.
According to Dr Asha Hegde, National Consultant, Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission, NACO, the challenge lies in integrating the programme with the maternal health system and also the fact that “40 per cent of the pregnant women access the private sector. So how do we tackle that,” she asked.
To keep this in check, the government will have to provide linkages with the private sector and also ensure that screening tests for HIV are available at all the registration points. The Centre has made a strong push in rolling out the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV programme across India, but it will have to do more to ensure all women receive the treatment and no child has to start his or her life with HIV.