KARACHI, Dec 1: Child health experts called for preventing the spread of HIV infection in parents-to-be since 90 per cent of the infected children acquire HIV/Aids from their mothers.

Speaking at a seminar on Saturday, the experts also stressed the need for effective counselling and timely treatment of HIV-positive pregnant women, and provision of safe delivery practices and infant-feeding options to help reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

The seminar was organised by the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), in Arag auditorium of the Dow Medical College, in collaboration with the paediatrics department of the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK) and the Sindh Aids Control Programme (SACP) to mark World Aids Day. Dr Ayesha Mehnaz, the chief of paediatrics department at CHK, informed the audience, who largely comprised medical students and doctors undergoing postgraduate training, that for the past year the CHK had been providing HIV/Aids treatment services to children. So far, she said, around 22 children of both sexes, who had acquired the infection from their mothers, had been registered at the hospital.

Dr Mehnaz said that screening of blood for HIV testing before and during pregnancy was necessary, while effective counselling and timely treatment helped prevent transmission of the disease.

Dr Noorunnissa Masqati said that across the world more than 1,500 children were infected with HIV/Aids every day and more than 90 per cent of them acquired the disease from their mothers. She said that HIV may be transmitted during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding after birth. By the end of 2011, she added, an estimated 3.4 million children in the world were living with HIV/Aids.

Dr Masqati said that the children might also be infected by transfusion of contaminated blood or related products, use of contaminated needles or syringes, and sexual abuse. According to her, the most effective way to reduce transmission of HIV/Aids to children was curbing its transmission to future parents and preventing unplanned pregnancies in HIV-positive women.

For women who were pregnant and were also HIV-positive, Dr Masqati, suggested antiretroviral-prevention treatment, including treatment for their own illness, and provision of safe delivery practices and infant-feeding options to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission.

Speaking on management and treatment of HIV/Aids in children, she said that antiretroviral therapy, treatment of acute bacterial infections and opportunistic infections, prophylaxis and palliative care, along with maintaining good nutrition, immunisation and psychological support for the family mattered a lot in the course of the treatment.

Dr Nida Noor said that HIV serological testing could not be done in infancy to confirm the presence of HIV because the maternal HIV antibody entered the baby after crossing the placenta. Virology tests were required to test for the presence of HIV/Aids in children below 18 months, she added.

Dr Ashraf Memon of the SACP said that according to latest estimates, there were around 106,000 HIV-positive people in the country while the annual incidence of HIV/Aids patients in Pakistan was greater than 0.1 per cent. Most of the children who suffered from HIV/Aids acquired it from their parents, he added.

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