Angola strengthens services to prevent paediatric HIV infections
On 22 July, experts will gather in Washington, D.C., for the International AIDS Society’s biennial conference on rolling back the HIV and AIDS epidemic. UNICEF will host a leadership forum stressing the need for innovation in eliminating new HIV infections in children. This story is part of a series illustrating UNICEF's efforts on behalf of children and women affected by HIV.
By Olívio Gambo
LUANDA, Angola, 17 July 2012 – The smile is visible on the face of Rosa Pedro, a 42-year-old HIV activist working to improve access to health services for people living with HIV.
Ms. Pedro is one of 15 people living with HIV who participated, along with 32 health professionals, in a training on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMCT) of HIV for nurses. The training used the Integrated Management of Adult Illness (IMAI) approach, and was organized for the first time by the Government of Angola, with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Through this training, Ms. Pedro became a patient-aide-trainer, and now works to improve quality of care for patients with HIV.
Ms. Pedro, a native of Luanda, has a 14-year-old daughter and is a volunteer at the Network of Women Living with HIV (MWENHO). She was diagnosed with HIV in 2004 after having been ill for four years.
"When people at my company discovered I was HIV positive, my boss drove me to unemployment. My family and friends have ignored me, and the hardest was to see my baby of 9 months dying for lack of adequate medical care," she said.
Working together to prevent and treat HIV
In Angola, 22,000 children are between ages 0 and 14 are living with HIV, and thousands more are infected every year. But increasing PMTCT coverage to 80 per cent would considerably decrease the number of children infected.
"I do not want any child to live my daughter's dilemma. I'm keen to work and contribute to decrease the level of HIV infection among newborns,” Ms. Pedro said.
Despite the relatively low HIV prevalence of 2 per cent in Angola, HIV is a serious public health issue, given the low level of access to health services in general and HIV services in particular. Furthermore, taking into account poor access to information about HIV and low rates of HIV testing in Angola, coupled with the higher HIV prevalence in surrounding countries like Namibia and Botswana, there is a real risk that HIV prevalence will continue to increase.
Marcela Silva, a technician from the National HIV/AIDS Institute of Angola (INLS), said, “A joint training with people living with HIV has helped to awaken the minds of health professionals about some omissions during their day-to-day work."
Ms. Silva believes that the training will help improve the quality of the services offered and hopes that the training methodology will be replicated in other provinces of Angola where access to services and information is very limited.
"This experience proved to be very important not only to protect children from HIV infection but also to decrease the level of stigma that is very present in all health facilities throughout the country.”
Committed to reducing risk
UNICEF is committed to supporting the Government of Angola in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The IMAI approach will assist in accelerating the decentralization of services and improving healthcare quality, both of which are urgently needed.
To protect children against HIV and contribute to the reduction of paediatric infections, the training will allow people living with HIV to participate directly in the evaluation of HIV services and the performance of health care professionals.
“We are engaged to continue supporting the Government of Angola to implement this methodology in other provinces in the country, and as such prevent 4,500 children every year against the risk of being born HIV positive. But another very important result is the effect on reduced stigma among health staff and the increased self-esteem among people living with HIV. It is so fulfilling to see that happening,” said UNICEF HIV/AIDS Specialist Chief Karoline Fonck.