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St Mary's Dispensary celebrates 8th graduation of HIV exposed infants

 Turkana First Lady First Lady Lilian Ekamais Lomorukai (in black) leads other officials in cutting a cake to celebrate 8th graduation of 27 HIV-exposed infants. [Courtesy, County]

St Mary's Dispensary (Kalokol) in Turkana has celebrated its 8th graduation of HIV exposed infants.

The celebration saw 27 exposed infants feted as virus-free.

Until eight years ago, HIV-positive mothers in Kalokol transmitted the virus to their children due to poor healthcare.

But following tremendous improvements in health service delivery, the facility marked its eighth Prevention-of-Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) initiative.

Mothers living with HIV said many of them were not aware of their status because there was no access to prenatal clinics and care.

A number of them, the mothers said, ended up giving birth to HIV-positive babies.

Mary, a 38-year-old mother who was attending the Friday ceremony for the sixth time was one of the facility's success stories. None of her six children is HIV positive.

"The biggest challenge for mothers living with HIV is a balanced diet in the face of perennial droughts and acute shortage of food," she said.

Medical Services Chief Officer Dr Gilchrist Lokoel said the 27 HIV-free infants were a testament that the mothers had resolved to adhere to a prescribed drug regimen including antenatal visits, delivering at the dispensary and ensuring that their children also take their drugs.

"I ask the mothers to continue taking their drugs because this is a lifelong journey," he said.

He however challenged the health workers to put in place measures to reverse the rising trend of new infections in Turkana.

According to the National Syndemic Diseases Control Council, Turkana's infection rate in 2022 was 3.2 per cent but the latest estimates indicate a 5.6 per cent rate.

Turkana First Lady First Lady Lilian Ekamais Lomorukai urged the national government to consider supporting mothers living with HIV in cash transfers.

"I will request the county government to set aside food ratios for them in the next round of relief food distribution," she said.

She explained that the provision of food will encourage more women to be tested as it would mean testing, treatment, and feeding.

Turkana Central Sub-County Medical Officer Amos Ekitela urged the mothers to be advocates of the PMTCT services in their remote villages.

Sister Doris, the Medical Coordinator at the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, asked women to embrace antenatal care and ensure they deliver in health facilities to minimize chances of infections and transmissions.

USAID Imarisha Jamii representative Joseph Ekuam reiterated the need for prevention and stepping up of testing as well as follow-ups to reduce the number of mother-to-child infections. Imarisha Jamii is supporting HIV care and treatment in 52 selected areas across the county.

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