Nyangana-North American Ambassador to Namibia Thomas Daughton has praised Nyangana District Hospital in Kavango East for reaching an infant diagnosis milestone of 94.4 percent.
At that rate of infant diagnosis Nyangana is the only Namibian hospital to achieve such success in the early diagnosis of HIV among infants, allowing for early treatment that prevents HIV transmission from mother to child.
“It is a pleasure to be here with you at Nyangana Hospital to celebrate your achievements in preventing HIV transmission from mothers to their children,” Daughton said when he visited Nyangana Health Centre on Thursday.
“Right here in Nyangana, during 2015 only every second infant exposed to HIV was tested within the first six weeks, which is the age recommended by WHO and adopted by Namibia, and today it fills me with pride that I can say we have reached a rate of 94.4 percent.
“Today 19 out of 20 HIV-exposed babies are being tested here and referred to treatment and care, if needed. No doubt this is a milestone worth celebrating,” he added.
The U.S. ambassador further said he was proud and honoured that the United States government supports the noble effort to combat the spread of HIV with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID.
The ambassador further said children are the most vulnerable members of society. Be it from hunger or disease, the littlest and most innocent human beings should not suffer – because it is not their fault.
“It is never their fault, their life and well-being depends on others. It is our responsibility and moral duty to do everything in our power to protect them from harm,” he said.
HIV can pass from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, but when effective medication is taken the risk of transmission is significantly reduced and children are born and remain HIV-negative, even when an HIV-positive mother is breastfeeding her HIV-negative baby.
“As a matter of fact, since the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission) programme was started, we have seen HIV transmission from mothers to their children reduced from 30% to less than 5%. This is a huge success,” Daughton added.
“All of us here have one goal in common: we want to end the HIV epidemic and to achieve that new infections among children must be eliminated.
“The World Health Organisation promotes a comprehensive approach to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. One important part of this strategy is to provide appropriate treatment, care and support to mothers living with HIV, their children and other family members,” Daughton noted.
Since 2004, thanks to several programmes addressing mother-to-child transmission in Namibia, the number of children born HIV-positive has dropped by over 90 percent.
Daughton attributed the success to healthcare workers and policymakers in the Health Ministry, saying they should and can truly be proud of that achievement.
“However, there is no reason to relax our efforts or believe we have beaten the disease yet. It is no secret that the highest risk for HIV-positive infants to die is within the first three months of their life.
“Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure that children of HIV-positive mothers are diagnosed quickly in order to immediately put them on treatment,” Daughton advised.
PEPFAR through USAID is helping to further close the gap between diagnosis and linkage to treatment through its partner, IntraHeath, and the USAID Technical Assistance Programme (UTAP).
The project has intensified efforts to making all relevant tests available where people seek care, even in remote areas, to ensure that young patients quickly get the treatment they need.
Innovative platforms, such as the one designed by IntraHealth, tailored to decentralise health settings make it easier for health workers to conduct tests and follow up on babies without requiring mothers to travel long distances to the nearest health facility.