HIV Study Examines Choices and Decision Outcomes on Infant Feeding
Dr Alice Ngoma Hazemba of Zambia conducted a study that analysed choices and decision outcomes on infant feeding in the context of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
The research was conducted in Lusaka from January to September, 2014, with the focus on HIV-positive mothers receiving health care services in selected sites in Lusaka and also on nurses, midwives, nutritionists and clinical officers who were providing care.
Said Hazemba: ‘In Zambia, pregnant women are encouraged to exclusively breastfeed during the first six months of their baby’s life. Currently all pregnant women who test HIV-positive are given antiretroviral medicines and after delivery are encouraged to exclusively breastfeed. Research in the area of HIV and infant feeding has shown that exclusive breastfeeding while the mother is on antiretroviral medicines reduces the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV through breast milk. These strategies are meant to improve the health outcomes of the HIV-exposed babies.’
She said her study titled: “HIV and Infant Feeding: Choices and Decision-Outcomes in the Context of Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission among HIV-positive Mothers in Lusaka, Zambia”, aimed to inform policy on HIV and AIDS in Zambia.
‘The findings led to the development of a model that provides nurses, midwives and other front-line health care workers with simplified steps for consideration during infant-feeding counselling of HIV-positive mothers. HIV-positive mothers need support and care in order for them to successfully feed their HIV-exposed babies and reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV through breast milk,’ she said.
Based on her findings from this research, she said nurses needed to spend more time with mothers to ensure that they clearly understood the information on infant-feeding counselling provided by the Ministry of Health in order to avoid community influences that may oppose safer feeding practices.
‘In the community it is normal to give new-born babies water and other foods because it is believed that breast milk alone is not enough to feed the baby,’ she declared.
She said the study’s recommendations were tailored for women who needed better services to reduce the risk of infecting their babies with HIV.
The recommendations included training front-line health workers how to communicate effectively with mothers during infant-feeding counselling. ‘There is need to design culturally appropriate messages on the importance of breastfeeding and to work with women within their communities where they live, interact and feed their babies. Involving families in infant-feeding as a social support system for HIV-positive mothers cannot be over emphasised in communities that are built on cultural values,’ said Hazemba.
Hazemba is a Lecturer in the Department of Public Health at the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine. She is a maternal, neonatal and child health specialist and has been involved in several research projects relating to women’s health and wants to continue with that work.
Ms Nombuso Dlamini