To reduce the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children the Alliance is working with partners in South Sudan to ensure that prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services can be widely accessed in more health facilities.
Knowledge and awareness of HIV is very low in South Sudan, with only 45% of women between 15 and 45 having heard about it and 70% unaware of the three main forms of prevention.
The majority of women (68% of 15-49 year-old women) don’t have any knowledge that HIV can be transmitted from a mother to a child and data suggests that only 15% of births took place in a formal health facility in 2006.
After four decades of armed conflict, health facilities are very poor and the Ministry of Health reported in 2007 that South Sudan had only eight sites providing PMTCT services which were integrated into antenatal services.
In October and November Alliance South Sudan held training sessions in PMTCT for 51 healthcare workers from across South Sudan in Juba and Wau. The trainers were supplied through the Alliance Technical Support Hub for East, Central and Southern Africa.
The trainers used the Kenya National PMTCT training curriculum especially adapted in consultation with the Southern Sudan Ministry of Health and UNICEF for the South Sudan context.
Modules covered an introduction to HIV; specific interventions for PMTCT; counselling, testing, safety and supportive care work; infant feeding; PMTCT programme implementation, monitoring and evaluation and quality assurance.
There are huge practical challenges in delivering effective PMTCT services in South Sudan, not least addressing the acute shortages of HIV testing kits, antiretroviral prophylaxis for mother and exposed child, safe delivery services and infant feeding advice.
Formal national PMTCT training packages are now needed so the programme can scale up and more staff be trained. Communities also need to play a crucial role in increasing awareness, access and uptake of services and the Alliance will be working with communities to do this.
This work has shown that it is feasible to initiate and provide PMTCT services in hard to reach areas as long as there is strong government commitment and the cooperation of health workers.
Dr Akasha Abdelsalam, director of prevention and capacity building at the Ministry of Health said, ‘I am satisfied by the good work that has been done and I am certain mother to child transmission of HIV will be greatly reduced.
‘I commend the Alliance for its commitment to ensuring the PMTCT training and follow up was professionally done. I promise we will follow up so PMTCT services remain at the top of the government’s agenda.’
The real, sustainable success will now be in ensuring all those involved in providing PMTCT and the Government of Sudan ensure PMTCT is implemented and scaled up so all pregnant women and their partners can access the services.