Helping HIV-positive pregnant women on World AIDS Day

by LizethKruger , Dis-Chem
Helping HIV-positive pregnant women on World AIDS Day
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World AIDS Day, an annual observance held every December 1st, serves as a poignant reminder of the global effort to raise awareness, and extend support to those grappling with the challenges of HIV/AIDS.

Women are an important target in curbing the spread of HIV as they may face unique challenges, including gynaecological issues, potential mother to child HIV virus transmission, an elevated risk of cervical cancer, and possible complications related to HIV medication side effects.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 1.3 million women and girls living with HIV become pregnant each year. In the absence of intervention, the rate of transmission of HIV from a mother living with HIV to her child during pregnancy, labour, delivery, or breastfeeding ranges from 15% to 45%.

Identification of HIV infection should be immediately followed by an offer of linkage to lifelong treatment and care, including support to remain in care and virally suppressed and an offer of partner services.

According to Lizeth Kruger, Dis-Chem & Dis-Chem Baby City’s National Clinic Executive, women are at the critical intersection of HIV, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, therefore access to reliable information in supporting pregnant mothers living with HIV and ensuring safe breastfeeding practices is vital.

“Exploring medical advancements, support systems, and knowledge have made it possible for expectant mothers living with HIV to lead healthier lives and protect their babies. By increasing awareness and continuing to improve healthcare and support services, we can further reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on mothers and children, bringing us one step closer to an HIV-free generation,” says Kruger.

Important information to assist improve health outcomes for HIV positive mothers:

  1. Pregnancy and HIV

In recent years, significant progress has been made in supporting pregnant mothers living with HIV. Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) have been a game-changer in preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus. These medications not only protect the mother’s health but also greatly reduce the risk of passing the virus to their babies during pregnancy and childbirth.

  1. ARVs and PrEP medication during pregnancy

One common concern for pregnant women with HIV is whether they can continue taking ARVs. The answer is a resounding yes. Stopping ARV during pregnancy can be more harmful than beneficial. Medical professionals greatly assist and can work closely with expectant mothers to adjust their treatment plans to ensure both the mother and the baby’s health during this crucial time.

PrEP, a combination of anti-HIV medication that keeps HIV-negative people from getting HIV, can be taken even after a person falls pregnant. It is however important to note that PrEP only protects against HIV infection, not against pregnancy or any other sexually transmitted infections.

An international study led by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Professor Dhayendre Moodley confirmed earlier this year that PrEP is safe in pregnant HIV negative women. Until 2019, pregnant and lactating women in South Africa did not receive the PrEP roll-out due to a lack of safety data on its use in pregnancy.

  1. Breastfeeding and HIV

Historically, breastfeeding posed a transmission risk for mothers living with HIV. However, with advancements, the virus, coupled with proper medication management and precautions, safe breastfeeding for mothers with HIV is now possible. For mothers living with HIV who wish to breastfeed, it’s essential to follow specific guidelines to minimise the risk of transmission to their infants. Breastfeeding and HIV - BabyYumYumThese guidelines typically involve taking antiretroviral medication, exclusive breastfeeding, and regularly consulting with healthcare providers for monitoring and support. Mothers and healthcare professionals must work together to make informed decisions that prioritise both the mother’s and baby’s well-being.

  1. HIV/AIDS support for pregnant moms

Support is crucial for pregnant women living with HIV. From healthcare providers offering specialised care to support groups and counselling services, many resources are available to help mothers navigate the unique challenges they may face. This support extends beyond medical care to address emotional and social needs, fostering a holistic approach to health.

References:

World Health Organisation. 2023.  Mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Available from:https://www.who.int/teams/global-hiv-hepatitis-and-stis-programmes/hiv/prevention/mother-to-child-transmission-of-hiv. [Assessed date: 13/10/2023].

News24. 2023. International study led by UKZN professor confirms effectiveness of PrEP in HIV negative pregnant women.:https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/international-study-led-by-ukzn-professor-confirms-effectiveness-of-prep-in-hiv-negative-pregnant-women-20230204.

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