The Health Ministry of Oman considering plans for the introduction of HIV screening programme for all pregnant women with a view to reversing an increasing trend in mother-to-child transmission of the deadly virus that causes Aids. The screening programme is aimed at the early detection and management of HIV-positive pregnant mothers, so they do not pass on the infection to their newborns.
Expectant mothers registered at antenatal clinics (ANCs) of government and private health institutions in the Sultanate will be screened for HIV under a proposal drawn up by the Ministry.
As per health officials, HIV-positive women are at risk of transmitting the virus to their offspring during pregnancy, childbirth or through breastfeeding. Mother-to-child transmission is responsible for nearly 90% of new infections among infants and children. The risk of mother-to-child transmission is estimated at 5-10% during pregnancy, 10-20% during labour and delivery, and 5-20% during breastfeeding. Timely detection and intervention can however drastically reduce the incidence of transmission, officials stress.
HIV infection among women in the Sultanate is extremely low by world standards, with only 122 female HIV/Aids cases registered at Health Ministry healthcare facilities during the 2001-2007 period. Eighty% of these cases were in the age group of 15-49 years. Of the 51,920 pregnant women registered at antenatal clinics at MoH hospitals in 2007, a mere seven were found to be HIV positive. Data gleaned from MoH records indicate that 23 infants acquired HIV through the mother-to-child transmission route during the 2000-2007 period. Of this number, 6 cases of HIV among children below 10 years were reported in 2006-2007, having acquired the infection from their mothers.
With attendance at antenatal clinics accounting for more than 98% of the population of expectant women, officials see ANCs as ideal settings for the proposed HIV screening programme. Approximately 52,000-54,000 women attend antenatal clinics every year. HIV cases detected during the screening process can be suitably managed early during the antenatal, intra-partum and postpartum periods, it is pointed out. Significantly, all confirmed HIV positive mothers will be counselled and treated with antiviral drugs at Health Ministry expense if the cases concerned are Omani nationals. All MoH healthcare centres will also be provided with trained counsellors who will offer counselling to HIV positive mothers.
Children below 5 years of age account for roughly 1.8% of the projected 75,000 HIV positive people in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO), which includes the Sultanate of Oman. Women make up nearly a third of the HIV-positive population in this region. A projected 47,000 adults and children succumbed to AIDS in the EMRO. Globally, the infection afflicted around 33.2 million people in 2007, while also claiming the lives of some 2.1 million sufferers.