PMTCT programme seeks ‘Case Trackers’ expertise

Public Health and UNICEF officials have teamed up to train case trackers to find pregnant women and mothers who have stopped their HIV treatment endangering the lives of their infants.

The two entities jointly launched a four-day training programme in the capital to sharpen existing skills and provide new expertise to the trackers who will execute the novelty for six months according to organisers of the initiative whose central tenet is ensuring that “no one (is) left behind” Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO) Dr Karen Boyle told participants at the recent launch of the programme.

“You will be tasked with ensuring that no one is left behind, i.e. ensuring that one hundred percent of mothers living with HIV are enrolled in the care and treatment programme. You will be tasked with ensuring that women are coming to clinic as they should, that they are taking their medication and there is zero transmission from mother to child,” Dr Boyle explained.

Boyle explained that part of the success of the plan lay in Case Trackers standing symbolically in the ‘shoes’ of the mothers.

“The important quality of you being able to empathise with patients, being able to put yourself in their shoes and make that journey that much easier… because you are going to be that interphase, the one who sits and explains to the to the healthcare workers the issue your client may be grappling with and what needs to happen,” Boyle said.

The programme which is undertaken under the auspices of the Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) of the MOPH is envisaged to provide telehealth services to the clients and their exposed children.

Under it, it is envisaged there will be continuity of treatment, support for viral suppression, and the enrolment of newly diagnosed pregnant women in the treatment regime organisers unveiled.

When he spoke UNICEF’s Mr. Irfan Akhtar, Deputy Representative, Guyana and Suriname tied the blueprint as a means of countering the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic which is affecting all sectors and devastating to the poor and other vulnerable groupings.

“We recognize that globally, COVID-19 has affected human life and has disrupted the services and including health services, and in Guyana this is no different. We see that it is crucial to continue to protect those who are likely to be negatively impacted by COVID-19,” Mr Akhtar said.

Therefore, the visionaries of the blueprint will focus on tracking pregnant women and mothers who have defaulted from the clinic; designing and helping to manage an effective referral system, and providing emotional support to newly-diagnosed mothers, the UNICEF official said.

The intervention of the case trackers is vital for the unreached; critical in assisting with management of an effective referral system, and essential in providing emotional support to newly diagnosed mothers, Akhtar explained.

“You are important to the process, as Guyana aims for the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV. You will act as an important bridge between mainstream healthcare providers and mothers who are living with HIV and their children who were exposed to HIV; Furthermore you are their key in accessing medical, social, psychosocial and other mental health-related services,” the UNICEF official reminded the participants.

Meanwhile, Maternal Child Health (MCH) Officer, Dr Oneka Scott emphasised that the social support for the management of HIV is not to be taken for granted.

“Looking at the psychological, emotional and social needs remains paramount. Quite often if these are not addressed, we will not attain our results of healthy babies and healthy mothers,” Scott reminded.

She continued: “Our HIV/AIDS positive mothers will need to be supported with continue health education and risk reduction and that’s what’s what you will be doing. As case trackers you will be able to advocate for the needs of those mothers and children.”

PMTCT programmes also support safe childbirth practices, appropriate infant feeding and providing infants exposed to HIV with virological testing after birth and during the breastfeeding period.

It also provides antiretroviral treatment (ART) for prevention and effective treatment.

Globally, some 1.4 million HIV-infections among children were prevented between 2010 and 2018 due to the implementation of PMTCT services.

In 2017, 80 percent of pregnant women living with HIV were receiving ART, a significant increase from 2010 levels when only 51 percent had access.

Guyana, by aligning with the Region’s initiative towards the Elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis in the Americas, has signalled its intention to achieve this goal.

Consequently, a National Validation Committee was established to prepare the country’s application for Elimination status in keeping with clear guidelines.

Guyana is also on track for an international validation for its programme to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV and syphilis nationally.