Nam records 35 000 HIV+ mothers in three years

By Tracy Tafirenyika

A notable 35 000 HIV positive mothers successfully gave birth to virus free children in the past three years. The Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme by the Ministry of Health and Social Services has helped to reduce the MTCT.

Executive Director of the Ministry of Health and Social Services Ben Nangombe told Confidente that the statistics were generated across the country’s 14 regions and covered the period from 2018, 2019 till August 2020.

Namibia recorded 11 933 cases of mothers under PMTCT in 2018, 12 395 in 2019 and 9 709 in 2020 between January to August they were 9 709.

Nangombe highlighted that only 13 babies were infected by their mothers in 2018, 166 in 2019 and 109 in 2020.

Statistics show that although the success story has been recorded in saving the babies from contracting the virus, the number of pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS steadily increased in the period under review.

A further breakdown of the figures indicated that the two Kavango regions are the worst affected with 4 852 positive mothers, followed by Oshikoto region 4 310, Zambezi region 4 223, Khomas 3 910, Ohangwena 3 677, Omusati 3 270, Oshana  3 022, Erongo 1 870, Otjozondjupa 1 648, Kunene 1 315, //Kharas 983 and Hardap region being the lowest with 845 women.

Health Minister, Dr Kalumbi Shangula explained that the government continued to maintain a voluntary testing policy for everyone including expectant mothers.

“Very few children are born with HIV from HIV positive mothers. We only test women who are coming for the health facility testing. If the women did not attend antenatal care you cannot look for them or force them to be tested, you don’t do that,” he said adding: “We do not have shortages of HIV testing kits and testing facilities.”

Psychologist Shaun Robert Whittaker explained to Confidente that women who are HIV positive can still give birth to healthy babies.

“What is important is that they can still go on with their lives and they can get married. Some of these babies are usually negative which means they can still continue with their lives. Positive mothers should not be constrained at all because they can still go on with their daily lives even if they are HIV positive.

“The reason why some mothers do not go for antenatal care is because they do not understand the benefits of this care and they need guidance and knowledge about this care so that they can avoid the risk of giving their babies HIV during birth. We need to guide them and counsel and talk to them and encourage them about how they should take antenatal care seriously,” he said.

Yvonne Stramiss, a psychological counsellor explained that some mothers do not go for antenatal because they feel unsafe to disclose their status to health workers.

“Some mothers experience harsh treatment from the caretakers at some of these institutions.  They find it difficult to go every time being exposed emotionally while battling their own feelings of guilt, anger and blame towards themselves. They would rather wait their term till the end to avoid that … which we all know is neither fair nor right.  Being pregnant, carrying your child is supposed to be the most wonderful and beautiful experience, yet going through all this makes it torture and a traumatic experience for them,” she said.

Mao Tjiroze who is the deputy coordinator of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) explained that the programme supports the Ministry of Health to make sure pregnant and breastfeeding mothers attend their local clinics to know their HIV status, and if positive, receive antiretroviral medication.

“CDC also supports civil society organisations to work with the Ministry to provide supportive services to mothers in the community to ensure they stay connected to their care at the clinic and remain on treatment. If a mother stops taking her antiretroviral medication, she is at risk of getting sick and passing the virus to her baby during pregnancy and the breastfeeding period,” he said.

US Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson announced that PEPFAR will contribute US$89 million to Namibia in 2021 to fight HIV/AIDS. The funding amount is an increase from the US$81 million that the programme provided for 2020.