Apr 26, 2011

Management of Sexually Transmitted Infections Falls Behind HIV/AIDS Prevention

AUTHOR:PlusNews GobalSOURCE:IRIN News, PlusNews

While there has been a greater focus over the last decade to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT), efforts to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as mother-to-child STI transmission, lag behind. Health workers are often so focused on encouraging HIV prevention and/or adherence to an ARV regimen, they miss screening for STIs. Ann Karanja, a clinical officer at Korogocho Health Centre, a health clinic in Nairobi, said this to IRIN News:

"Not many health facilities, especially small ones like this one, have personnel who can screen for sexually transmitted diseases and so once they enroll HIV-positive mothers on prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs, it ends there and it is believed all is well…Many women and even men keep signs of a venereal infection secret and never report [it] to health workers - it is only realized after delivery during which it might be too late to reverse the damage already inflicted on the child, or when they have already had premature or stillbirths." 

Syphilis is the principle danger, and though treatable, the UN World Health Organization estimates that, globally, two million pregnant women contract the disease annually, and 1.2 million of those women will transmit the infection to their newborns. It is estimated that syphilis in pregnancy directly contributes to 650,000 fetal and neonatal deaths throughout the developing world every year.

Andrew Sulleh, Medical superintendent of Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi, Andrew Sulleh, said this to IRIN News: "We must train our health workers, provide the drugs, but above all, promote male involvement because treating a woman infected with syphilis without treating the husband as well means she will get re-infected, so male involvement cannot be overlooked," he said. 

Life for Mothers sees STI screenings and treatment as a necessary part of antenatal care services; it is inexcusable that an HIV-positive mother can deliver an HIV-negative baby but then lose that baby to a treatable STI. Prevention is key, as is male involvement, which LfM strongly supports. Men must be encouraged to share the responsibility for their partners’ reproductive and sexual health; without this we cannot eliminate the preventable causes of maternal and neonatal mortality.

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Did you know?

Children who have lost their mothers are up to 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not.

Source:United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2010

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