The guidelines were developed following significant programmatic experience and research evidence regarding HIV and infant feeding, accumulated since 2006.
Speaking at a meeting to share information on the new policy guidelines, Dr Dhlomo noted that formula fed infants, whose mothers were not on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme, had the highest risk of HIV transmission or death.
“Experience seems to [suggest] that mothers are making inappropriate choices often because of confusion … let’s support, protect and promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of every baby’s life.” Dr Dhlomo said.
Professor Anna Coutsoudis, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, said prevention of mother to child transmission comes at a cost of excess deaths in uninfected infants.
“We needed to consider how many HIV infections we prevented, as well as how many infants survive,” said Coutsoudis.
She said that breastfeeding transmission of HIV is overestimated by many, including healthcare workers. The latest data suggested that exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life increased transmission risk by 2 to 4 percent.
“Giving antiretroviral prophylaxis to mothers or infants significantly reduces this further,” said Coutsoudis, adding that there was no evidence of significant side effects following the use of ARV prophylaxis.
The department will roll out key infant feeding and related nutrition messages through multiple communication channels, including interpersonal communication, community mobilisation events and local mass media.
Major activities will include mobilising and training existing frontline health staff, NGO personnel and community members on infant feeding and related nutrition issues. - BuaNews