November 1, 2022

HIV infections among pregnant adolescents worrying

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Mirirai Nsingo

Zimbabwe faces a huge task to reduce new HIV infections among adolescents and young women amid reports that about 5 498 pregnant mothers between the ages of 15 to 34 tested positive this year.

The alarming statistics come at a time the country is fighting to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis, which currently stands at over eight percent.

Presenting during a media workshop organised by National Aids Council last week in Chinhoyi, Ministry of Health and Child Care deputy in the PMTCT and Paediatric HIV Care and Treatment Coordinator, Dr Precious Andifasi said there was need to address gender inequalities which places women and young girls at a higher risk of infection.

“Women often lack freedom of choice while they may be aware of what to do to protect themselves, but are unable to take precautions because of powerlessness, economic dependence on their partners and fear of violence.

“They may also feel that it is simply their duty to please their man, even to the detriment of their own well-being. Reversing rising HIV infection rates in women will require addressing these fundamental issues concerning how men and women relate to one another and improving male involvement in antenatal care,” she told journalists.

According to her presentation, between January and June this year, a total of 6 333 pregnant women were newly diagnosed with HIV during antenatal care visits with the doctor adding these women were at higher risk of infecting unborn babies if treatment is not initiated early.

“Women who become infected during pregnancy and breastfeeding have a higher risk of transmitting HIV to their infants, compared to women who became infected with HIV before becoming pregnant.”

During her presentation, Dr Andifasi further added that 2 225 pregnant women also tested positive for syphilis noting babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn (a baby born dead) or die from the infection as a new-born.

She challenged the media through various platforms to encourage the nation to test for HIV as well as promoting male engagement in antenatal care.

“The media has a critical role to play in disseminating accurate information as the country fights to reduce HIV and syphilis infections in mothers.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Care is integrating HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health rights services to increase access and uptake of critical HIV, sexual gender based and SRHR services.

“We also scaling up prevention strategies for women testing HIV negative including provision of

Pre-exposure prophylaxis for those at high risk of seroconversion”.

National AIDs Council chief executive officer Bernard Madzima concurred the media had potential to help in the country’s HIV response through utilising contemporary methods of sharing and disseminating critical information on HIV and Aids.

“We need to understand that HIV and Aids — while some of you may think it is now a tired story, still deserves our attention.  We must capitalise on the ubiquitous nature of social media as well to reach our audiences on the spot,” Madzima said.

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