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Campaigning increases rates of pregnant women on ART

Friday, 7 June, 2013

A study carried out in two health districts in KwaZulu Natal province, South Africa, found targeted campaigning by health workers accelerated antiretroviral treatment (ART) access among pregnant women living with HIV by more than 50 percent. In contrast, rates of pregnant HIV positive women starting ART in a nearby district, without campaigning, showed no significant improvements. The interventions saw referrals of pregnant women on ART rise from an average of 79 each month, to 188 each month.

The six-month campaign, led by the district health management team, employed health workers and local leaders to “generate strong pubic endorsement” and awareness in the importance of testing and treatment of HIV to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) and mortality. The approach was based on the successful North American ‘100,000 lives’ campaign, and the similar Welsh campaign, ‘1,000 lives’. These campaigns aimed to improve health care around a set of numerical goals to be met in a given time. Both the successful drives were accredited with saving lives and reducing patient hospitalisations, showing the high value of HIV advocacy initiatives in reducing mortality and morbidity in both low- and higher resource settings.

South Africa remains one of the hardest hit countries by the epidemic, with 5.6 million people living with HIV in the country, and only 68% of HIV positive pregnant women receive treatment in the region. Despite commitments by South Africa to increase rates of pregnant women living with HIV receiving treatment, through legislation change and targeted programmes, an estimated 40.5 percent of maternal mortality was attributed to HIV between 2008-2010.

The authors of the study concluded their results add to existing literature on the strengths of a campaign strategy to enhance performance of large-scale health programmes, and showed the strategy “to be effective in rapidly improving the performance of a key component of the PMTCT cascade.”