Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has challenged men to play an active role in prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT).
According to Panos Institute Southern Africa it is increasingly becoming difficult for married and pregnant women to effectively prevent mother to child transmission of HIV due to lack of support from their spouses.
PSAf Executive Director Lilian Kiefer has noted that men, especially husbands or partners of pregnant women are critical in the PMTCT response, but most of them are reluctant to play their role.
Mrs. keifer says women need the support of their husbands to be able to get tested and plan for PMTCT, women also need to be in mutually faithful relationships to avoid getting infected while pregnant.
She says social systems across Southern Africa were perpetuating resistance to PMTCT by men, with pregnancy and child birth being considered a women’s agenda and this calls for communication interventions targeting change of attitudes among men in order to increase uptake and protect babies who are the future of the region.
Mrs. keifer says While it is not ideal for men to decide whether their wife or partner can get an HIV test while pregnant, it is happening and there is need to ensure that even within such difficult gender environments, women are able to protect their unborn babies.
She says it is also important that women attend all antenatal clinic visits, and this requires a supportive partner/spouse and this calls for effective communication and advocacy for effective and meaningful male involvement in PMTCT programmes.
Mrs. Kiefer says women who tested positive were afraid of telling their spouses as they feared stigmatization and abuse and this has negatively affected their adherence to medication adding that this has also resulted in the spread of HIV among married and co-habiting couples.
Participating in PMTCT also has some benefits for men hence they should take advantage of this exercise to also get tested for HIV, especially with the presence of discordant couples.
In 2011, a PSAf study identified the various factors preventing women from participating in PMTCT programmes.
Topping the list was the fear of testing which is still very high because of the stigma that follows a positive result.
pregnant women also fear stigmatisation at home, where some women have actually suffered divorce, expulsion from their homes and other challenges.
The study also established that some pregnant women test negative at first antenatal clinic visit, but end up testing positive in the second or third trimester of pregnancy and this shows that women are getting infected while already pregnant.
The Research has shown that the early stages of HIV Infection are highly infectious, which means that getting infected while pregnant puts the baby at high risk of contracting the virus from the mother.
Most women attend their first antenatal, and then they never come back until it is time for child delivery, making it difficult for them to fully benefit from PMTCT services.
In Zambia, the Demographic and Health Survey of 2007 showed that while 94% of all pregnant women attended their first ANC, only 60% attended the second one and the number reduces with the number of visits. This means that in a case where a woman gets infected while pregnant, this may not be detected.
This coupled with the challenge that PMTCT can only be administered if delivery takes place at a health centre with a skilled birth attendant, but many women deliver at home, makes 100% PMTCT access a dream.
According to the 2007 Demographic and Health Survey, 53% of all pregnant women in Zambia did not deliver with a skilled birth attendant.
With the 2015 deadline for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaching, the PSAf believes there us need to accelerate PMTCT across Southern Africa, to advocate for increased access to contraception for HIV positive women, and also to ensure that women deliver babies at health facilities with skilled birth attendants.