When pregnant women are HIV positive, there is a chance that they can pass the virus on to their unborn child. Taking a regimen of drugs can greatly reduce this likelihood but it is impossible to tell if the virus has been passed on to a infant until about 6 weeks of age because the newborn still has the mother’s antibodies in its body.
At 6 weeks, blood can be taken from an infant and sent to a laboratory for analysis. In many countries there is only one or two such labs that serve the entire country. If you are a mother in a rural and underserved area, the chances of you travelling hours to get your infant tested at the nearest clinic and then having this sample reach the lab which is often over 15 hours drive away, and the result returned to you is slim at best. If your child is HIV positive and not put on treatment within their first year of life, their chance of dying is about 30 percent. During the second year of life this goes up to 50 percent. Timely diagnosis and subsequent treatment is key for the survival of so many infants.
Read about UNICEF Innovation’s Mwana Initiative which has improved, by over 50%, the turn-around time for delivering early infant diagnosis HIV results back to rural and underserved communities in Zambia and Malawi. Community Health Workers also register births and trace patients via SMS to ensure that they receive key childhood interventions.
UNICEF and Boston University co-authored this piece on the research which examines the design, implementation and evaluation of the initiative.