Sunday, November 21, 2010

Media should do even more on PMTCT-Experts

HIV experts on Friday challenged journalists to become more proactive in reporting and dealing with issues of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of the HIV virus.

The experts were speaking at a meet organised by Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi Chapter and Journalist’s Association against Aids (JournAids) at St. John of God in Mzuzu. The meet was aimed at enlightening journalists on the relationship of PMTCT and Human Rights.

“Journalists, with all your travel and skills, you should do more than just concentrate on writing the story, be real stakeholders in this issue and bring out powerful ideas,” said Alex Namakhuwa, Mzuzu City Assembly’s Environmental health Officer and cordniator of the meeting.

“People listen and read a lot from media reports but the media can do more by reporting on critical issues,” said Margaret Msukwa, HIV Advisor for the NGO Development Technical Assistance Services (DETAS).

MISA Malawi Director, Aubrey Chikungwa, highlighted the usefulness of the media in the HIV fight. He said the media has the potential to set the agenda, to report on critical issues and to connect people with services.
Chikungwa, however acknowledged the difficulties that editors and journalists face in reporting HIV issues such as where sources fear stigma and demand anonymity rendering stories powerless.

Some of Mzuzu-based jornalist captured at an earlier function, with me sitting down!
Some of the seated journalists also called on the Hospitals and HIV stakeholders not to rely on the media only but to develop their own information dissemination strategies.

The stakeholders were also asked to simplify the jargon that they use in their reports, which the journalists said was sometimes difficult to translate and simplify for mass dissemination.

St. Johns Hospital HIV coordinator, Ella Nyirenda, ignited debate in her presentation when she asked whether some rights ought to be limited to allow PMTCT to take its course.

She highlighted some clashes of rights such as the right of a pregnant woman not to get HIV testing against rights of the unborn baby i.e. right to medical care and protection against disease. The right of the father to know and that of the mother to maintain her confidentiality on her HIV status were also listed as incompatible.

PMTCT is a family centered prevention pack where the HIV positive mother brings her husband, other children for HIV test and possible treatment [Neverapine] and support. The program was launched in 2003 and by June 2008 coverage was at 83% in the 544 PMTCT centers in the country.

8% of Malawi’s HIV infections occur from mother to child, the mother can infect the baby during birth, breastfeeding and when the baby in still in the uterus. Some of the favourable conditions of such infections are listed as low CD 4 count, new infections during pregnancy and invasive delivery procedures.

The program seeks to have an HIV free generation in the future and there are success stories across the country with HIV positive couples giving birth to HIV negative babies, the program is however threatened by stigma, accessibility problems and lack of expertise.

The workshop was funded by National Aids Commission (NAC) and was one in a trilogy of similar workshops across the big cities of Malawi where experts are engaged to drill and grill scribes on HIV issues.

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