Minister of Health,??Donville Inniss??

Come early next month, Barbadians will learn of this country’s policy on the Prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission (PMTCT) programme when the Ministry of Health makes the policy document public.

The document, which is considered timely, will address all facets of the PMTCT programme on HIV that was started here in 1995, and is now marked by a substantial reduction in the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, from 27.1% prior to 1995, to 2.5% in 2007.

Earlier this year, at a symposium for pharmacists that addressed ??"Prevention and Management of Mother-to-Child-Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV Health Minister, Donville Inniss, attributed the significant decline to a high rate of HIV testing of pregnant women, coupled with comprehensive PMTCT intervention, including providing mothers with anti-retroviral drugs.

Acknowledging that well over 90% of new HIV infections among infants and young children occurred through mother-to-child transmission, the Health Minister said then that "without any interventions, between 20% to 45% of infants born to HIV+ mothers become infected, with an estimated risk of five to 10% during pregnancy, 10% to 20% during labour and delivery, and five to 20% through breast-feeding."

And, he added, "more than 1400 children under 15 years of age become infected with HIV every day, most through mother-to-child transmission. Children account for more than 10% of all new HIV infections globally."

Minister Inniss noted that since 1998, the international community had recognised the magnitude of this risk, and sought to reinforce countries’ efforts to scale-up their prevention of mother to child transmission programmes.

He explained: "As one of the first clinical HIV interventions to be widely implemented in resource-constrained settings, PMTCT programmes helped to create the foundation for the roll-out of anti-retroviral therapy for all persons living with HIV who need treatment. PMTCT initiatives also galvanized political support for the broadening of the global response to the HIV epidemic."

Against this backdrop, the Health Minister urged both regional and international pharmacists to see themselves as vital members of the health-care team and the building of capacity in the world of HIV management as essential. He said: "We must stress the importance of continuing education and higher levels of training for all care givers, including the pharmacists, who invariably become a key advisor and counselor to the patients."

The Health Minister’s comments were reinforced by Consultant Paediatrician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Dr. Anne St. John, who in an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service noted that with over 3,500 infants delivered annually (90% of these at the QEH), there had been no new cases of Paediatric HIV/AIDS or deaths recorded among cases in the last three years.??

Describing this as "very heartening", she attributed much of it "to the island’s aggressive programme of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV."

The policy document will be officially launched at the United Nations (UN) House, Hastings, Christ Church, next Wednesday, November 4, at 10:00 a.m. by the Minister of Health who will also deliver the feature address.

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