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Alarm over rising mother-to-child HIV transmission in Kilifi

Players in the health sector have raised concern over the rising mother-to-child HIV transmission in Kilifi county.

They attributed the cases to the failure of pregnant and breastfeeding women to embrace antiretroviral treatment.

Speaking during an event for nurses at the Kilifi County Referral Hospital, the County Director of Health and Sanitation Services, Hassan Leli said a big number of children turn out positive when they are brought to hospitals for regular checkup.

Dr Leli asked health workers to work hard to address the situation. "One of the challenges we are grappling with is that we still have children who are turning HIV positive. Unfortunately, it has been a challenge for Kilifi as well as other counties," he said.

He said that inadequate quality health services are also a contributor to infant infections as identified HIV positive women are not given Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) while there is poor ART adherence during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

The County Director of Health and Sanitation Services warned that children exposed to HIV but not infected have a 70 per cent risk of dying within their first two years of life.

“A final push is needed to eliminate mother-to-child transmission and increase the proportion of pregnant women who receive antiretroviral for HIV in the county," he said.

Stella Bendera, a nurse at the Kilifi County Referral Hospital said mothers who are HIV positive have a chance to raise HIV-free babies if they follow the doctors’ instructions.

"We need to create a world where babies are not infected with HIV and where mothers with HIV/Aids enjoy long and healthy lives," she said.

Ms Bendera noted that most pregnant women use unskilled traditional birth attendants (TBAs) yet some are ignorant of HIV transmission and safe birthing practices.

According to Kilifi Department of Health Services statistics 32,355 adults and 2,180 children in Kilifi were living with HIV as of 2022, a prevalence of 3.4 per cent.

Among those receiving treatment, 61 per cent are virally suppressed. "Mother to child transmission rate is at 11.2 per cent with 506 related deaths," states the report.

The triple threat among adolescents and young women aged between 10 and 19 has become a driver of HIV infections due to sexual risk and vulnerability.

Ali Mwinyi, HIV activist in Kilifi, encouraged HIV-positive mothers to take care of their children.

Mr Mwinyi's journey as an HIV activist began in 2015 when he was allowed to address the World Aids Day celebrations in Kilifi town.

Despite the stigma, he never kept his status secret. Mwinyi works to raise awareness about HIV, especially among peers.

The World Health Organization estimates that globally, 1.3 million women and girls living with HIV become pregnant each year.

In the absence of intervention, the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding ranges from 15 per cent to 45 per cent.

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