Health-e, 3 October 2002, Men need to be involved in PMTCT, Kerry Cullinan

Lack of male involvement in government’s prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programme (PMTCT) is undermining its success, according to HSRC researcher Dr Christine Varga.

After testing HIV positive, many pregnant women were afraid to tell their partners as they feared losing them, Varga told the annual Reproductive Health Priorities Conference this week.

Varga, who has been involved in evaluating the PMTCT pilot sites in Mankweng and Siloam in Limpopo, said HIV positive older married women found it particularly hard to disclose to their husbands.

However, involving male partners would ensure men were also tested and did not blame the women for HIV infection, and that men understood the need for safe feeding for their babies and for safe sex (to avoid infection with other strains of HIV).

Male partners who were unaware of their HIV status often could not understand why the mothers of their children wanted to either exclusively breastfed or use formula milk to avoid transmitting HIV to their babies.

The University of Venda’s Vhonani Netshadama said parents-in-law, the group found to be the least likely to be sympathetic to an HIV positive woman, also needed to be educated in order to save the lives of babies.

Netshadama warned that it would not be easy to involve men as even community leaders interviewed said that they "can’t be following women to the clinic to discuss breastfeeding".

Chief director of HIV/AIDS Dr Nono Simelela also warned that traditionally men were not involved in pregnancy, and that it may be more effective to reach out to those who usually took care of babies’ health in communities, such as grannies and traditional healers.

Meanwhile Dr Onesmo Rwakyendela told the conference that a Soweto study found that 5,4% of pregnant women who had initially tested HIV negative were found to be HIV positive shortly before birth.

His study involved 390 women from Soweto who had tested HIV negative in early pregnancy.

Rwakyendela appealed for late re-testing of pregnant women in areas where there was a high HIV prevalence rate.