Mother-to-child transmission is the most common cause of HIV transmission in children below the age of 15 years. Perinatal transmission accounts for 5.4 % of India’s HIV infections. Infants are at great risk of contracting HIV from their mother during pregnancy, labour or through breast-feeding. HIV sensitive deliveries are uncommon, loss to check up on newborn children and mothers is high and treatment is often discontinued or taken irregularly. This is due to lack of knowledge, discrimination at clinics and hospitals, poverty and long distances required for travel to treatment centres. Death is common among HIV positive infants and children because of untimely testing and treatment.
This can be radically reduced if mothers are tested for HIV during pregnancy, by ensuring the delivery is handled by informed hospital personal, by monitoring the child and mother after delivery and following up on the child by ensuring the necessary tests and treatment are provided.
Arogya Agam is working with eight district Positive Women’s Networks with 20 volunteers per district. They work in the villages and in direct contact with pregnant mothers and children living with HIV. They not only ensure that the above-mentioned procedures are followed but also work to combat discrimination and stigma be it in hospitals, schools or by family members. Discrimination impacts positive children, especially girls, who are forced to change schools or drop out if their HIV status becomes known. High rates of child marriage also apply to HIV affected children. One reason being that parents are afraid their child may die before getting married.