New guidelines on preventing the transfer of HIV from mother to child will come into effect from Wednesday (May 7 2014), Ministry of Health and Gender has said.
The national guideline on prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV is underpinned by a need to equip the Maldives for what the Health Protection Agency has termed an HIV “time bomb.”
Programme Coordinator for the Reproductive Health Unit Naseera Nazeed has urged all pregnant women to get tested in their first semester.
“There is very high chance of saving the baby – 90% – if they are checked,” she said.
The guidelines aim to protect women of childbearing age from HIV, advise women with HIV against pregnancy, protect HIV positive mothers from infecting their children and providing support to HIV positive mothers and their families.
The Maldives identified the first infant with HIV in 2012. In February this year, the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) transfused a pregnant women with HIV positive blood due to a technical error. Meanwhile, local media have alleged a 19-year-old HIV patient had given birth at IGMH in early April.
Programme Manager for the National HIV AIDS programme Abdul Hameed said the spate of HIV incidents this year had raised awareness on HIV and provided a boost to healthcare efforts.
“We are sending out the public a clear message, always to be sure of their status. HIV is everywhere, you don’t have to give your name, you just have to go and get tested. The result will be in 10 minutes,” he urged.
Lack of prevention programmes and specialized care for population groups at risk facilitate an HIV outbreak in the Maldives, Hameed said. Sex workers, gay men and intravenous drug users are particularly at risk, he said.
“We are sitting on a time bomb. We know those key populations exist [in Maldives],” stated Hameed. “At any time it can explode.”
The Maldives does not offer prevention services for gay men or sex workers, he said.
HIV patients prefer treatment abroad due to high levels of stigma and discrimination, he said, adding: “Even in the healthcare system itself there is ingrained discriminations.”
The healthcare system is ready for an outbreak, Hameed claimed, but said there are deficiencies that could hinder response to a crisis.
“The health system is ready, but we don’t have the civil society or organization networks. We may not be prepared,” he said.
A prevention workshop—the second of its kind—is underway from Tuesday to Wednesday (May 4 to May 6) to train health professionals on the new guidelines. A total of 31 participants from regional hospitals, populous atolls, Malé, Villimalé and Hulhumalé are taking part.
The Ministry also plans to hold a series of phone conferences to all atolls to further disseminate the information.
Former Minister of Health Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed said it was only through “incredible luck” the HIV virus had not spread throughout the country.
“All the habits that may lead to the spread of HIV is excessively in practice,” he claimed referring to sexual promiscuity and intravenous drug use in the Maldives.
Since the first case of HIV was detected in the country in 1991, 19 cases of HIV have been reported among Maldivians. However, the Health Ministry estimates numbers of HIV positive persons could be between 70 and 100.