Despite its relatively low nationwide rate of HIV infections, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a major challenge requiring urgent attention. 18,000 new HIV infections in Congolese children were recorded in 2010, according to UNICEF, and just 5.6 percent of HIV-infected pregnant Congolese women received treatment to prevent HIV infection of their babies.
As part of the DRC’s initiative to eliminate pediatric HIV infections, ICAP has been working to expand access to PMTCT services—increasing its reach from 17 facilities in Kinshasa in 2011 to 146 ICAP -supported facilities in Kinshasa and Katanga Province by December 2012. In the past year, 80 percent of HIV-infected pregnant women at ICAP-supported facilities in the DRC received comprehensive PMTCT services. In addition, nearly 75 percent of infants born to HIV-infected women in these health clinics and hospitals received an HIV test within 12 months of birth, indicating a significant improvement in linking HIV-exposed infants to care and treatment, as appropriate. .
“We know there are 1,000 new HIV infections in children every day—and that too many of these occur in the DRC,” said Dr. Faustin Malele, ICAP DRC Country Director. “ICAP and its partners are making progress to rapidly expand coverage of PMTCT, but we must do more if we are to achieve the goal of zero new HIV infections in the DRC.”
In collaboration with local partners, ICAP developed a strategy to address the challenges associated with access to PMTCT and family-centered HIV services in the DRC. Antiretroviral treatment or prophylaxis, as well as psychosocial support through individual counseling and support groups, are part of the comprehensive treatment package provided to pregnant women. Care of HIV exposed infants has also been systemized, with provisions for linkage to care and follow-up visits.
At the facility level, continuous training and mentoring is provided to staff ensuring that PMTCT interventions are effectively implemented. ICAP is also facilitating the distribution of medications and supplies, and ensuring that laboratory tests are returned quickly so that patients learn their HIV status.
Over the next year, ICAP will continue to strengthen the quality of family-centered comprehensive care in the DRC and support the recovery of the country’s health system.