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Why Advocate for PMTCT? Because it Works.

IntraHealth worked with Ethiopian community organizations to set up Mothers’ Support Groups, so that women living with HIV can support each other in living healthy lives and, if pregnant, taking steps to ensure their babies are born virus-free. This is the story of Meaza Asefa, a Mothers’ Support Group member. 

Watch Asefa tell her story and see the stories of other Ethiopian women in the video "Rising Hope (part 1)," above.

IntraHealth supports prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) not only because babies are adorable and everyone loves them (although they are and we do), but because of the tremendous efficacy of PMTCT. Without treatment, an HIV+ pregnant woman has between 25-40% chance of passing the virus to her child in the womb, during labor and delivery, or through breastfeeding. PMTCT can reduce transmission rates to 4-6%.

World-wide, women make up about 50% of the 33 million people living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most strongly impacted by HIV, women comprise 60%, and nearly all of them are of reproductive age. Of all children infected by HIV, 90% are in sub-Saharan Africa and 90% of them acquire the virus from their mothers during gestation, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Without the right treatment, most of these children die before their first birthday.

PMTCT programs improve women’s access to comprehensive health care and dramatically increase their chances of giving birth to healthy, virus-free babies. For PMTCT in low resource settings, the World Health Organization recommends administering antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to the mother in the 14th week of pregnancy and during labor. After birth, either the mother or the infant needs to take ARVs until a week after breastfeeding has finished.  Clinical trials have demonstrated that ARV prophylaxis can reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by approximately 75 percent.

Effective PMTCT needs to be integrated into maternal and child health programs and to strengthen referral links to family-centered ART and care programs, reaching mothers, fathers and children.  PMTCT also needs to be linked to comprehensive family planning services, so that women and their partners—HIV-positive or negative—are empowered to make decisions about future pregnancies. In low resource countries, many women do not have access to health care services at any point in their pregnancy. In western Africa 58.8% of women give birth without the supervision of a skilled birth attendant; in eastern Africa, the numbers rise even further, to 66.3%.  Comprehensive PMTCT brings health care and the women who need it together. IntraHealth is addressing this issue through several of our programs:

  • In Namibia we’re working with faith-based mission hospitals, nongovernmental organizations, and professional organizations to build HIV prevention, testing, care, and treatment capacity.
  • In Ethiopia we’re working with the health care system to increase the availability of PMTCT as well as reaching out to pregnant, HIV+ women through programs such as mother support groups to let them know what the services can do and how to access them.  
  • In Rwanda we’re working to strengthen the health care system and improve the availability of HIV-related services, including PMTCT.

For more information on IntraHealth and our PMTCT work, see our website’s HIV/AIDS material or watch the videos Rising Hope (part 2 and part 3), featuring some of the women our work has touched.