Working to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV

<LI> International staff: 5<BR> <LI> National staff: 10
In mid-1999, an MSF mission focused on AIDS in South Africa was still a vision in the heads of a few people in Brussels and Geneva. A year later, MSF supports a mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) prevention program and has created three clinics where HIV-positive people receive care and support. MSF has also begun a high-profile campaign for access to medications to treat HIV. MSF monitors, evaluates and provides technical assistance to the MTCT program in Khayelitsha, a township outside Cape Town where one in five women at prenatal clinics test positive for HIV. The site was selected largely because it was the only government-supported MTCT program in the country. The program has been successful: High proportions of women accept counseling and testing, and eventually take AZT to reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their children. MSF began infectious diseases clinics in the primary health care centers adjacent to the maternity units, for mothers, their partners and the broader community. Initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, with hundreds of women being seen in the clinics' first months. Although medical care is now limited to treating opportunistic infections, use of antiretrovirals (drugs that attack HIV directly) is foreseen in early 2001. Working with local NGOs such as the Treatment Action Campaign, the South Africa team has advised the Minister of Health on a drug donation offer and addressed parliament on the issue of access to medicines, all in an effort to improve access to care for people with HIV. During the International AIDS conference in Durban, 1000 people listened to speakers from around the world at an MSF-organized satellite meeting.