The attainment of the nationwide coverage of Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) services among the Zambian population is still a challenge, Minister of Health, Kapembwa Simbao has disclosed.
In a speech read for him by his deputy Minister, Mwendoi Akakandelwa, Mr. Simbao said the provision of the PMTCT services has remained a challenge despite the programme having expanded over the years.
He revealed that by the end of 2008, only 51 per cent of HIV positive pregnant women were accessing comprehensive PMTCT services while 29 per cent of estimated HIV exposed newborn babies received ARV prophylaxis.
Mr. Simbao was speaking at the first mid term review of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and World Health Organisation (WHO) regional grant for the scale-up of the PMTCT of HIV.
He said there was, therefore, need to improve quality of care for HIV positive mothers and children where these services already exist.
Mr. Simbao said government has since put in place the Zambia National Scale-up Plan for PMTCT and Paediatric HIV Care Services for 2007 to 2010 to provide comprehensive PMTCT services to at least 80 per cent of pregnant mothers by 2010.
He added that the plan is also meant to provide Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) services to at least 80 per cent of children living with HIV.
He said in addition to the current funds committed to PMTCT by the government and its partners, the CIDA grant funds have been specifically targeted at scaling-up PMTCT and Paediatric HIV interventions in ten highly affected districts in six of the nine provinces.
He also noted that the average HIV prevalence rate in the targeted areas is 25 per cent, with a range of 22.2 per cent to 30.9 per cent.
Mr. Simbao further said it is estimated that 8,036 paediatric infections will be averted at an estimated cost of US$320 per infection within the two years of the duration of the present grant.
He named the targeted districts as Chingola, Chipata, Kabwe, Kafue, Kitwe, Livingstone, Lusaka, Mazabuka, Mongu and Ndola.
The minister commended the WHO country office, regional office and the headquarters for having brought together technocrats from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe to share their successes, challenges and other experiences in implementing PMTCT.
And speaking at the same event, WHO Country representative Olusegun Babaniyi said over 90 per cent of the 1,200 children who acquire HIV every day get it through mother to child transmission.
He however said this could be prevented and the risk could be reduced to less than 5 per cent in Africa where breastfeeding is a norm.
Dr. Babaniyi thanked CIDA for partnering with WHO and providing 15 million Canadian dollars to contribute towards scaling up PMTCT services for nine African countries which have high HIV prevalence rates.
He said WHO, in collaboration with other co-operating partners, stood ready to help national governments in their quest to scale up PMTCT services.
Dr. Babaniyi has since urged participants to share challenges they may be facing in individual countries so that together, they could come up with solutions to these problems.
He further urged participants to consider vulnerable groups and come up with strategies that will make PMTCT services accessible to pregnant adolescents and physically challenged HIV positive people.