19 percent of Malawi pregnant women are HIV positive – experts

Health experts have revealed that 19 percent of pregnant women accessing antenatal clinic are HIV positive and that only 8 percent of HIV infected infants are able to access Antiretroviral Treatment (ART).

Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) doctors disclosed during a workshop for journalists in Blantyre that most infants are at high risk of contracting the virus from their mothers due to reluctance by the mothers to go for early testing and accessing treatment when found positive.

Doctor Queen Dube said more than half of the country’s Adult HIV prevalence rate is women.

The adult prevalence rate is at 11.9 percent.

Dube said most women are failing to disclose their status to their partners or access treatment because are not economically and academically empowered.

Dr Queen Dube briefing members of the press

“If we empower women then we will be able to have more women who are HIV positive accessing the treatment but also encourage their partners to go for testing and access treatment. Many infants are at risk because their mothers are unwilling to go for testing or access treatment if found positive,” Dube said.

The Prevention of Mother to Child Therapy (PMTCT) coverage in 2009 was at sub-optional 38.8 percent.

Dube said among others factors that are putting lives of infants at risk of contracting the virus or dying due to lack of medical care is absconding treatment by the mothers.

“But also the period which we take in testing the infants 3-4 weeks is long and it contributes to the reluctance by the mothers to turn up for treatment for their babies as most of them they tend give up on the baby or due to fears of their spouses, they would rather stay put,” she said.

Empowerment

Another doctor, Eric Umar said lack of knowledge, culture and the perception most pregnant women have towards health workers especially nurses was fueling the reluctance by the mothers to access treatment for their babies who are diagnosed HIV positive.

Umar said most mothers tend to shorten the life of their HIV infected infants due to lack of psychosocial support as well fear of repercussions once they disclose the issue to their spouses.

“Most women lack the will to confront their spouses and due to lack of education and economic empowerment, they fail to take a stand when it comes to issues relating to HIV and Aids. They can’t influence their partners to go for HIV testing or access treatment because of fear of losing the support,” Umar said.

Umar supported Dube’s idea on the need to empower women economically in order to be able to make independent decisions and also call for implementation of door-to door HIV testing, which he said is effective way of reducing stigma and influence couples to do HIV testing and access treatment if need be.

Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust (MLW) conducted the workshop in order to train journalists in medical and science research reporting to ensure there is proper understanding of researches done by medical experts or scientists by the members of the media and be able to write effective stories.

Journalists who attended the meeting

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