Ramsammy rejects global report for ‘slighting’ Guyana on PMTCT record
Stabroek News – April 6, 2008
By Iana Seales
Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has rejected a global report released on Friday that failed to name Guyana among the Caribbean countries on target to make the 2010 goal of offering a comprehensive Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmis-sion (PMTCT) of HIV programme.
Guyana has been slighted for reasons unknown Ramsammy said yesterday, adding that the local PMTCT programme is among the best in the world with coverage of over 80 percent. Additionally, he said, the country boasts an above 90 percent acceptance rate of PMTCT services among women.
“The only women not on our programme are the women who refused to be. Our programme has been a resounding success and we have actually been praised at the international level which is why this new report raises certain questions by failing to acknowledge this,” the minister added.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) released the report: ‘Children and AIDS: Second stocktaking report’. It listed Barbados, Jamaica and Cuba as the only countries in this part of the world that are on track to reach the goal of offering the appropriate services to 80 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women to ensure PMTCT.
It is the second such report released since UNICEF, as part of its work as a UNAIDS corresponding agency, issued a call to action to Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS. The report reviews advances made over the past few years in the area of HIV and children focusing on four key areas: PMTCT, providing paediatric treatment, preventing infection among adolescents and young people, and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS.
Ramsammy told Stabroek News that Guyana’s efforts in these areas have not gone unnoticed, adding that the country can be proud of its achievements. He said there seems to be a developing trend of a few international agencies attesting to such achievements locally but failing to mention them internationally.
Within the past few years, he said, testing sites have been set up across the country and more persons are being reached. However, there still remains the issue of persons in several communities not being able to access the site close to home. But Ramsammy said that this has not hindered the programme in any significant way since antenatal clinics across the country have been integrated into the programme.
According to the minister, there is very little more Guyana can do with respect to PMTCT. He said the programme is voluntary and women have a right to choose whether they want to be a part of it. He said some women have regrettably said no to it but the numbers have not been that many.
“We would love for everyone to come on board but we can’t force women to do it. If they say no then it is no but overall the programme is strong and again I repeat, successful,” he stated.
Further, the minister said, the report must be exposed for slighting Guyana and added that he intends to call the relevant local representatives to hear what they have to say about what has been reported.
The report indicated that the number of HIV-positive children in low and middle-income countries receiving antiretroviral treatment increased by 70 per cent from 2005 to 2006, moving from 10,674 in 2005 to 16,949 in 2006. Indicators also show progress on the protection and care for children affected by AIDS in many countries and on access for these children to social services. Progress has also been made in school enrolment rates for children who have lost both parents to the disease, although AIDS-affected children are still more likely than other children to fall behind in school and to live in poorer households.
The proportion of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving anti-retrovirals to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to their infants increased by 60 per cent from 2005 to 2006, according to the report but even with this increase, it is noted that only an estimated 23 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women are receiving anti-retrovirals.
By the end of 2006, the report said, only 21 low and middle-income countries were
on track to meet the 80 per cent coverage target by 2010, up from only 11 countries in 2005. Countries were defined as ‘on track’ if at least 40 per cent of all HIV-positive pregnant women received antiretroviral prophylaxis for PMTCT in 2005 and 48 per cent received it in 2006.
It was noted in the report that the progress described is based on an analysis of national data on PMTCT coverage reported by low and middle income countries annually over the past three years and on estimates recalculated by UNAIDS of the numbers of pregnant women living with HIV in 2004–2006. It added that in 2006, 108 countries had sufficient PMTCT coverage data to submit for analysis, almost twice as many as in 2004, adding that these countries are home to 99 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million HIV-infected women in low and middle-income countries who gave birth in 2006.
Additionally, the report argues that achieving an AIDS-free generation is possible pointing out that although funding gaps persist, governments and donors alike are allocating more resources to prevention, treatment and protection efforts. In 2007, some $10 billion were available to combat AIDS, up from $6.1 billion in 2004.
The priority is now to implement new initiatives and scale up those that have already been tested and proven effective, the report added.