According to UNAIDS, South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world. The impact of HIV/AIDS on women’s health cannot be ignored…

An estimated 21% of women (15 – 49 years) in South Africa are HIV positive. This is accordingly to Stats SA.

“In our Mother and Child Health Centre in Lehae, we are seeing more than 25% of women in the reproductive age that test for HIV, test positive,” says Dr Thirza de Jong from Orange Babies, part of the Dutch Orange Babies charitable foundation.

“While Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) rates are declining, the number of women testing positive is still high – showing that we need to focus on education around prevention.”

This ties in with the 2017 Theme for World Aids Day (1 December): The right to know. Prevention is my responsibility.

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According to a 2016 survey in South Africa, results showed that of girls aged 15 – 19 years old, 16% had started childbearing, 12% had already given birth and 3% were pregnant with their first child. This is certainly a concern, as teenage pregnancy is one of the main indicators of poverty.

Empower women

“To empower a woman means you empower the community and this is exactly what our Mother and Child Care division is all about,” says Lucy Jones, Marketing Director at Philips Personal Health Africa.

“We believe every mother and baby deserves the best care possible – before, during and after a newborn enters the world and, through our clinically proven Developmental Care solutions and educational services, we are focused on doing exactly that.”

HIV/AIDS and women’s health myths

Jones says that “there are many myths and issues about pregnancy and breastfeeding when HIV positive and it is critical that these are dispelled for transmission prevention.”

So, what are some of the issues?

Contraceptives vs. condoms

Many young girls and women focus on oral contraceptives, as the most important thing in their minds is preventing pregnancy. As a result, many won’t use a condom and will only use contraceptive – which is why education has become critical here.

ARVs and breastfeeding

Many HIV positive new mothers believe that, even though they are on Anti Retro Virals (ARVs), they can still transmit HIV to their babies, so they refrain from breastfeeding.

Many women have no money to buy formula milk, so they often feed their babies pap and water – which is a huge health risk to these children.

Breastfeeding is safe and it’s recommended that women breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months. If possible, mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding up to 24 months when on ARV treatment.

Antenatal and postnatal check-ups are essential

It is important for HIV positive pregnant women to adhere to their treatment throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding and go for their antenatal care check-ups regularly.

The guidelines recommend lifelong treatment for a woman who has been diagnosed with HIV. After the child is born, they should go for their postnatal (PNC) check-up and have the child tested for HIV, as well as at 18 weeks and 18 months after delivery. Six weeks after the mother stops breastfeeding, the infant should also be tested for HIV.

A support system is critical. There is still a lot of stigma around HIV and to increase chances of adherence to treatment, the right support system is important. This includes education and involvement of family.

“It is the responsibility of both corporate South Africa and organisations such as ourselves to place a strong emphasis on HIV education to drive down numbers and ensure that our mothers and babies are armed with the knowledge that they need to live healthier, preventative lifestyles. Prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” says Dr de Jong.

Get a free HIV test

In support of World Aids Day, the Clicks Helping Hand Trust will be offering free HIV testing and counselling from 1-31 December for all customers without medical aid.

These free HIV tests will be offered in all 190 Clicks clinics nationwide, by appointment only, Monday – Friday, 13h00 -17h00.  HIV self-test kits are also available for purchase in selected stores.

To book an appointment, call 0860 254 257 or visit www.clicks.co.za

Sources: Stats SA and UNAIDS

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.