August 27, 2010
New World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines indicating that HIV-positive mothers can safely breastfeed their babies for up to 12 months, provided mother or baby receives antiretroviral (ARV) therapy for up to one year, still need to be communicated to most new mothers in Uganda.
For the last decade, the country's policy has been to advise HIV-positive mothers on ARVs to exclusively breastfeed for three months. The new WHO guidelines were adopted during the 18th International AIDS conference in Vienna.
Dr. Elizabeth Madraa, head of food and nutrition at the Ministry of Health, acknowledged that awareness and education are needed. "We really need to come out and sensitize pregnant HIV-positive mothers very well on these new recommendations because they are still not yet convinced," she said.
Madraa said six to 12 months of breastfeeding is sufficient for providing the initial immunity a baby needs. Mixed feeding is not recommended, as it makes an infant's gut vulnerable to infection, she said.
Dr. Lydia Mungherera, executive director of the AIDS Support Organization and patron of the Mamas Club for HIV-positive women, said Uganda needs to step up efforts to educate women about the new policy. "Community nurses and midwives should be trained and any new policies should be quickly circulated," she said.
"Many [HIV-positive mothers] are not yet aware of these new guidelines, so this needs a lot of awareness raising and the training of health workers, including midwives," Mungherera said.