Ouagadougou (Fides Service) - Burkina Faso is one of the west African countries most affected by HIV/AIDS. According to the World Health Organisation out of a population of a little more than 12 million, every year at least 40,000 people are infected including 10,000 children infected in the womb, at birth or by their mother’s milk In Africa the risk of HIV/AIDS mother/child infection is 30-45% because of the frequency of other infections in mothers such as malaria, under-nourishment and anaemia in pregnancy and while breastfeeding which last for an average of two years. In Africa, in half the children AIDS evolves rapidly and the child dies in the second year. The other half develops the infection more slowly in ten to twelve years.
Faced with this situation in 2002 Burkina Faso’s health ministry adopted a national programme to prevent HIV/AIDS mother/child infection for which the S. Camillio Health Centre CMSC in the capital Ouagadougou was chosen to carry out the pilot test on the acceptability of the protocols recommended by WHO. This Catholic Health Centre, which delivers 7,000 children every year and is an important centre for mother-infant health care equipped with one of the most qualified laboratories in the country, has been working to fight AIDS for some time particularly monitoring the epidemic, verifying the results of treatment based on local medicinal herbs and assisting more than 900 AIDS patients of whom 92 receive antiretroviral triple therapy.
Access to mother-child protocol of which the effectiveness and safety has been scientifically demonstrated is free thanks to contributions by WHO/Italy and UNICEF.
Since May 2002, pregnant mothers being followed by the CMSC may undergo HIV screening if they want to and take advantage of sessions individual counselling, protected by professional secrecy. They may also invite their partners to take advantage of the same services.
It is important that screening is voluntary because a positive result can cause serious social consequences for women who are often abandoned by the partner and the community. These risks are discussed in counselling and screening is done only when the future mother is fully aware of the advantages and also the risks. Between May 2002 and January 2004, more than 200 being followed in their pregnancy by the centre were found to be HIV+. The patients were invited to undergo frequent medical examinations and to take preventative treatment of antiretroviral drugs, in most cases nevirapina. Two doses of this drug taken at the beginning of labour and one given to the baby in the first days of life reduce by half the risk of transmission of the virus.
Babies in this case are fed artificial milk and early weaning is encouraged at four months. These two options must be proposed because in Burkina like most of Africa artificial milk is not widely accepted for cultural and practical purposes such as difficult access to clean water.
In 2003, all HIV+ positive women at the CMSC were tested for the count of lymphocytes CD4 - to see the state of the patients immune system - and if necessary start antiretroviral treatment from the third month of pregnancy. This was a possible thanks to economic support from a local private industry and also technical assistance of the University of Brescia (Italy). CMSC at the moment is looking for funds to provide triple therapy for more patients and to extend the same treatment to infected children and partners.
Lastly, since 2003 CMSC is part of a research project to produce a paediatric anti-HIV vaccine sponsored by UNESCO and conducted by the “Tor Vergata” University in Roma in collaboration with Professors Montagnier and Gallo, who discovered the AIDS virus. The project aims to produce a vaccine to give at birth at the same time as the BCG inoculation already practised on large scale to protect the new-born infant from TB. BCG is able to stimulate the body’s immunity response also against other pathogen agents. The intervention aims to protect the infant from the risk of transmission HIV present in the mother’s milk to enable HIV+ mothers to breast feed their babies without risk. Breastfeeding is the best nourishment for the newborn infant and the most in keeping with Africa’s social-economic context. (AP) (3/4/2004 Agenzia Fides)