Primary target

After years of brouhaha over the plan to check the spread of HIV/AIDS from mother to child, the comprehensive programme for the Prevention of Mom to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of the disease, to be launched today, has offered hope for the infected expecting mothers. The mother to child route involves three modes of transmission — during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. The PMTCT aims to address all of these concerns so that the infant is shielded from the deadly virus. It has been generally acknowledged that women are more prone to the transmission of HIV/AIDS from men than the other way round. Without medical help women are likely to pass the virus to their infant, which is why medical supervision to prevent mom to child transfer has been vital in the fight against AIDS.

As of December 31, 2004, pregnant women represented only 0.2 per cent of the 4,593 people infected with HIV/AIDS. But agencies including the World Health Organisation think that the government figure of the affected is conservative by all means. In fact, the WHO estimates there are around 60,000 HIV/AIDS infected people in Nepal. Ascertaining the exact number of the infected is difficult but important as that will determine the reach of the programme and even its success. By government standards, no more than 10 women would benefit from the project at this stage. Even the anti-retroviral therapy’s reach at 75 people is considered by some as below the required threshold. But the transmission rate in the said bracket is uncomfortably high. Although social stigma might be behind the low-registration of those infected, that has only made things difficult when it comes to checking the spread of HIV. The project is launched with help from the UNICEF and the WHO, organisations with good experience of such operations. One can only hope that identification, treatment, counselling and guidance will yield desired results.

The disease is claiming a child’s life every minute on a global scale. If it is important to scale up treatment programmes, expanding the coverage of such efforts requires a complicated logistics operation, which is further compounded by the prevalence of discrimination of the diseased. The government must be aggressive in conducting surveys, household or otherwise, to ascertain the right figures. Because biology works against wom-en, they must be the primary target of any effort underway to check the spread of HIV. It is also important to empower women as there are established links between health, poverty reduction and economic growth. At the heart of the drive lie awareness campaigns. Identification and reaching out to the higher risk groups is another important aspect of the fight against AIDS.