Cape Argus, 31 October 2002, Mother-to-child campaign breaks the silence

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV has become the flagship programme in the Western Cape's anti-Aids initiative, leading the way not only for South Africa but also for the continent.

In greater
Cape Town, 100 percent of pregnant women have access to nevirapine, the drug proven to at least halve the chance of an HIV-positive mother passing on the virus to her baby.

Leading provincial Aids expert, Dr Fareed Abdullah, said the programme would save more than 1 000 babies annually.

But, he said, the spin-offs were just as important.

"It has helped remove the secrecy around HIV. With more than 30 000 women tested on the programme during the past three years, the epidemic is no longer buried deep in the labyrinth of private life.

"The programme has also united us all against the virus, bringing together the government, non-government organisations, clinics and the community," he said.

Brenda Smuts,
Cape Town's Aids co-ordinator in the provincial health department, said nevirapine was offered free at all maternity units in the city.

Voluntary counselling and testing were also available from a total of 167 lay counsellors, through NGOs funded by the provincial health department.

In addition, all full-time nursing staff, health educators and doctors were also trained to do the procedures in the absence of a counsellor.

"Clinics and hospitals are usually the HIV-positive patients' first port of call and all our staff have been through the clinical mentorship programme and are specially trained to care for HIV patients," Smuts said.

"At these facilities they are offered not only counselling and testing, but also treatment of any opportunistic infections, which usually come long before they get so sick that they need anti-retrovirals. But if they do, our staff are in a position to channel them to other resources."

Treatment was available for common opportunistic infections such as thrush, tuberculosis, pneumonia, skin disorders and sexually transmitted diseases.

Smuts said the provincial health department had, in conjunction with St Luke's Hospice, set up a 20-bed hospice for adults, currently moving from
Conradie Hospital to Hospital, and a 30-bed hospice for children at St Joseph's Home.

"We are negotiating to open another hospice urgently in the northern suburbs and to make beds available in the Helderberg region too."