NAIROBI, 11 January 2010 (PlusNews) - Unconventional health
workers and new technologies will be a vital part of the ongoing
effort to "virtually eliminate" mother-to-child transmission of
HIV, says Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.
"We cannot wait for the highest cadre of health professionals to
be trained before expanding our capacity to prevent
mother-to-child transmission," he told a press conference in the
Kenyan capital, Nairobi. "We have to tap into non-conventional
capacity to help expand access to health services."
Sidibe and Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, have just
concluded a visit to the Millennium Village in Sauri, western
Kenya, to assess the progress of a joint effort by UNAIDS and the
Millennium Villages Project to strengthen PMTCT services at the
village level, creating "MTCT-free zones".
The collaboration, launched in September 2009, aims to "virtually
eliminate" mother-to-child transmission in 14 Millennium Villages
across 10 African countries using the existing infrastructure,
human capacity and technical resources in the villages to help
rapidly expand family- and community-centred heath services.
"While in Sauri, we witnessed the very efficient use of limited
resources, such as SMSs [short message service] being used to
identify and help people in need of medical services," Sidibe
added. "We will need a combination of such new technologies and
task-shifting, where people are equipped with basic
health-provision skills, to rapidly scale up PMTCT efforts."
An ongoing study into the effectiveness of mobile phone
technology in the health management of people receiving ARV
medication in Kenya has found that the use of SMS communication
between patients and health service providers was both acceptable
and significantly cheaper than paying for transport to travel to
clinics for physical visits.
According to Sachs, the use of community health workers would
also be critical in achieving the Millennium Development Goals
relating to PMTCT: Goal 4, to reduce child mortality, Goal 5, to
improve maternal health, and Goal 6, to combat HIV/AIDS,
tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases.
"We are seeing, for example, the incorporation of traditional
birth attendants into the PMTCT effort becoming part of the push
for the proper application of medicine," he said. "In India,
there is now a three-and-a-half year medical degree because they
have recognized the need to accelerate the training to raise
their human resource potential."
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV remains a leading cause of
death among infants and young children in sub-Saharan Africa; in
2008, 390,000 infants in the region became infected with HIV from