HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system.
It targets the immune system and weakens a person’s defense against infections. HIV is found in blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, and breast milk. If HIV goes untreated, a person’s immune system will eventually be completely destroyed. In 2016, it was estimated that 7.1 million people living with HIV. South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world. “A 2012 survey found HIV prevalence among South African women was nearly twice as high as men. Rates of new infections among women aged 15-24 were more than four times greater than that of men the same age, and this age group accounted for 25% of new infections in South Africa” (Avert 2018)The South African HIV epidemic started just like any other infectious disease outbreaks.
It started with just a few people who were infected and then rapidly spread throughout a vulnerable population. One in six adults and children infected with HIV globally lives in South Africa and it is also where HIV is the leading cause of death in children and women. Most children obtain HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding.
Without care and treatment, most babies die within the first two years of life. Many die at home before they have been properly diagnosed and treated. “Progress in stopping new infections among children and ensuring that mothers are alive and healthy requires reaching the full cross-section of pregnant women with essential health services.” (Gap) HIV testing pregnant women remains challenging. These challenges continue even after they have given birth, such as an HIV positive mother not bringing her HIV negative child in in for its 10 week follow up testing. Because of this, South Africa’s “at birth testing” is being watched closely to see if challenges can be overcome.
“HIV-negative new mothers at high-risk of HIV are also insufficiently tested while they are breastfeeding. As a result, infants are exposed unknowingly to HIV at this stage.” (Avert 2018) A lot of women in South African countries who are living with HIV, and being treated, are not aware that they have to continue treatment while they are breastfeeding their baby. Antiretroviral medication, also known as ARV, is a class of medications that helps treats HIV.
This medication does not cure HIV, but when taken properly it slows down the growth of the virus. It’s important that these women are educated and that the message is clear that they must continue ARVs even after the baby is born. There are ways to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This is also known as PMTCT. PMTCT is the most successful and important HIV prevention in countries globally.
“In 2015, 7 countries in East and Southern Africa had greater than 90% coverage of PMTCT services. This includes South Africa, which is home to 25% of the region’s pregnant women living with HIV. At the end of 2015, more than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa were using community health workers to provide and support key HIV services, including PMTCT.” (Advert 1/12/18) Ways that PMTCT is implemented are when HIV is detected early during pregnancy, mothers with HIV receive HIV medicines during pregnancy and childbirth, c-section delivery, and when babies that are born to women with HIV receive ARVs 4-6 weeks after birth.There is a goal called “The Global Plan” and it is a plan to eliminate new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive. “The Global Plan towards the elimination of new child HIV infections and keeping their mothers alive has focused efforts on priority countries, 21 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa In South Africa, where 85% of pregnant women living with HIV reside. While progress has been made in these priority countries, much more effort is needed to reach the Global Plan’s target of reducing new infections among children.
” (UnAids) Coverage of early infant diagnosis remains low in the majority of Global Plan priority countries. Since HIV positive children decease within the first two years of their lives, initiating antiretroviral therapy before the 12th week of life reduces HIV mortality in children living with HIV by 75%. If we do not overcome these challenges of testing, prevention and treatments, many women and children will die, then The Global Plan fails.