Striking nurses cause surge in mother to child HIV infection

Nurses demonstrate in the streets of Nairobi as the countrywide nurses’ strike entered its second week, yesterday. [Willis Awandu, Standard]
The ongoing nurses strike may have unintended consequences on mothers living with HIV and Aids.

The strike, experts warn, is happening at a time when there is a surge in infections among children born to HIV-positive mothers.

The recent statistics show the rate of mother to child HIV transmission is 17 children per day.

Experts have warned the last two nurses strikes led to a decline in Antenatal Clinic (ANC) coverage and an increase in HIV-testing coverage of women by 10 per cent.

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During the nurses strike last year, mothers skipped clinics as there was nobody to take care of them, leading to a surge in mother-to-child infections.

Other reports indicate in 2015, antenatal clinic coverage went down from 85 per cent to 77 per cent and further declined to 74 per cent during the longest strike in 2016.

At the same time, HIV testing coverage also went down from 77 per cent in 2014 to 73 per cent in 2015 sinking to a further 70 per cent in 2016.

Child health

According to Professor of Paediatrics and child health Ruth Nduati, nurses play a critical role in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission during delivery.

“Nurses are a pillar of our hospitals and without them, there is no one to instruct women on how to even take Antiretroviral Therapy (ART),” she said.

Prof Nduati said the strikes have became a good excuse for health workers to avoid taking care of HIV-infected women or isolating them for easier control and management.

She said efforts to reduce the transmission of HIV to a child starts with testing pregnant women for the virus, preferably during their first antenatal visit.

“When giving the test result, health care workers should provide good counselling, including information about the available options to prevent transmission to the child,” she said.

Deputy Director of the National Aids Control Council (NACC) Emily Chesire noted only half of new-born babies are taken for HIV testing out of whom a quarter test positive.

According to Head of Family Health, Mohamed Sheikh, more needs to be done to strengthen the private sector in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of the deadly virus that is HIV.

Meanwhile, the Council of Governors (CoG) is set to meet today (Tuesday) to deliberate on the on-going nurses’ strike.

The council’s Finance and Economics Committee chairman Governor Wycliffe Oparanya has, however, asked the nurses to be realistic in their grievances.

“Nurses are making hard demands, which governors might not be in a position to address,” he said. 

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