HIV testing and treatment is at an all-time high for pregnant women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 68 per cent receiving treatment. However, only a quarter of children living with HIV are on treatment, and just 17 per cent of babies are tested before they are two months old. DRC is home to an estimated 42,000 children living with HIV, many of whom do not know their status.
This World Health Day, for every child, an end to AIDS.
The theme of World Health Day 2018 is universal health coverage – everyone, everywhere. Babies in the DRC can wait months for HIV results, but new technology can give a result the same day, speeding up treatment, and saving lives.
UNICEF Survival Gifts can provide women with HIV test kits. Give the gift of a healthy start to life today!
Celeste lives 75 kilometres from Mfuta clinic. She didn’t know her HIV status as she didn’t visit the clinic during her pregnancy, it was just too far away. When her baby Emmanuel became ill nine months after he was born, she braved the walk to the clinic only to find that the test kits had run out.
“It can take up to a year for a mother to receive her child’s test results … We are not allowed to administer ARV’s without a positive test result,” says Dr Lucie Nkonde, head of Kasanga Health Zone, in the Province of Katanga.
Long distances to medical clinics and even longer wait times for test results can pose a serious threat to the well-being of new mothers and their babies
Babies can wait days, weeks and sometimes months for a diagnosis because the rapid diagnostic tests used for adults don’t work for them. Instead, samples have to be sent to a laboratory that processes tests from more than eight provinces in the country.
Celeste persevered with therapeutic food to treat his malnutrition, but Emmanuel became sicker. During a community visit she was encouraged to test Emmanuel for HIV. She walked to the clinic again, crossing through waist-high rivers.
“But I didn’t give up …. It was my heart that helped me get there,” she said.
His sample was sent as a “critical case.” It took five months to receive Emmanuel’s results. Celeste’s husband died in that time.
At Mfuta clinic, it’s a struggle for head nurse Modest Kabango to provide appropriate care based on test results. “We just have to try and keep the baby alive until the test results come back,” he says.
When Emmanuel’s results returned HIV-positive, treatment started immediately and slowly his health returned. Without treatment, half of babies born with HIV will die before their second birthday.
There are devastating consequences for these delays, most notably the unnecessary death and severe suffering of thousands of children.
Long distances to medical clinics and even longer wait times for test results can pose a serious threat to the well-being of new mothers and their babies. For World Health Day 2018 – and beyond – UNICEF is committed to ensuring that every baby has a happy and healthy start to life.
New UNICEF-supported Point of Care (POC) diagnostic machines can return test results on the same day and treatment can be started immediately. In DRC, this lets doctors like Dr. Nkonde make timely decisions and start treating HIV-infected babies with life-saving drugs.