Number of HIV-free babies increases - study

Researchers in the country have said there is a significant increase in the number of HIV-negative children born to HIV-positive mothers. 

Prof Philippa Musoke, the executive director for Makerere University - Johns Hopkins University Research Collaboration (MUJHU), said the transmission rates among mothers getting antenatal care at Mulago and Kawempe hospitals have declined from 25 percent in 2010 to 2 percent.  

“If you look at the group, we follow at MUJHU, 3,000, the prevalence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is at zero percent. None of them transmitted the virus to the baby.  They are on treatment and are followed regularly [by our health workers]. But the national prevalence is at around 5 percent,”  she said.

Prof Musoke said this at Mulago while renewing their Memorandum of Understanding with the facility management to conduct different research projects aimed at improving patient care in the country. 

Since its inception in 1988, the MUJHU, a global research initiative at Mulago, has been central in the HIV/Aids fight with its landmark discoveries such as the use of nevirapine [medicine approved for the treatment of HIV infection] to cut mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

The latest statistics from the Uganda Aids Commission indicate that mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Uganda decreased by 77 percent, from 23,000 in 2010 to 5,300 (5.8 percent prevalence) in 2020. 

However, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids report released last week put the mother-to-child transmission prevalence at 7 percent in 2021, a decline from 25 percent in 2010. 

Prof Musoke said the gaps in testing and poor adherence are the main challenges.  “Not every site has the capacity to do what we do in Mulago and Kawempe. Some mothers don’t start treatment at the required time,” she said.

She added: “Some of the women get the disease during pregnancy and they don’t know about it, so they end up producing a child with HIV. Some of them take the medicine when they want. This makes the viral load very high, increasing the risk of transmission to the baby.”

Dr Rosemary Byanyima, the acting executive director of Mulago hospital, said the hospital has a mandate of patient care, teaching and research. 

“Having on board partnership with a strong institution which has really carried out landmark research which informed and influenced patient care, especially in the field of HIV care worldwide, is an honour. They are helping us achieve our mandate. We have a limited budget for research,” she said.