Male involvement crucial to prevent HIV infection of babies

Preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies is a huge global priority in the HIV response, but until recently the importance of involving men has not been recognised.

Preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies is a huge global priority in the HIV response, but until recently the importance of involving men has not been recognised.

Since 2001, HIV infections among children have declined 58 per cent (UNAIDS), but in 2013 there were still 240,000 children newly infected with HIV.

Dr Tichaona Nyamundaya, technical officer at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), says in Zimbabwe prevention of mother to child transmission programmes (PMTCT) focus mainly on women, but now is the time to examine men’s engagement to help reduce the incidence of infection among women and infants.

Men’s role in family health

Nyamundaya emphasised how it makes sense to offer HIV prevention and care needs to the family unit as a whole. Men play an important role, both in terms of women’s risk of acquiring HIV (especially in decisions around condom use), as well as uptake of services such as HIV testing and following up after obtaining results.

“We need men’s engagement and support in all aspects of the PMTCT programme,” said Nyamundaya.

“Men tend to lack information to make informed decisions about healthy behaviours and the roles they might play in promoting family health, including accessing HIV prevention, care and treatment services.

“Studies demonstrate that when men are given the opportunity to participate in sexual and reproductive health interventions, they are more involved in promoting the health of their families and communities.’’

Barriers to sexual health

Fear of knowing one’s status, stigma and discrimination, pose barriers to men’s participation in sexual health programmes. And policy inadvertently contributes to men’s exclusion from PMTCT and other reproductive health services.

HIV activist Trymore Ndava, 32, said to maximise the health outcomes of PMTCT, we must move beyond seeing men’s role as simply facilitating women’s access to healthcare services but view them as integral to the reproductive health policy and practice.

Ndava said men’s involvement in the elimination of paediatric HIV and promotion of family health would not only enable men and women to share responsibility but also accelerate national progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Elsie Juru (not real name), 25, a woman living with HIV, said it was time men became fully involved in PMTCT as traditionally they are the decision makers in a family.

“Men need to be educated on the benefits of PMTCT. They must understand how it helps the unborn child, and why it is important for them to know their status,” Juru said.

“When I got pregnant five years ago I registered late for maternity care as my late husband thought it was a waste of time and money. It was only when I was two months due to labour when I got the sad news that I was HIV positive and little could be done to save my child from infection.”

Photo story: life as a gay man in Kenya

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