Protecting Mothers and Babies from HIV during the COVID-19 Pandemic

12 May 2020

The COVID-19 lockdowns are making it difficult for vulnerable people to access critical health services, particularly in remote communities. In northern Uganda, the lockdown and restrictions on transport are a barrier to accessing health services for mothers and pregnant women living with HIV, putting them and their babies at risk. Ensuring HIV-positive mothers and pregnant women have continued access to antiretroviral treatment to prevent transmitting the virus to their babies is critical. If access to medicine is interrupted, the mother risks passing the virus to her baby, and risks developing health issues herself as a result of the interruption in treatment.

“The fight for antiretroviral treatment retention for mothers who cannot access health facilities during lockdown continues,” said Samuel Otoober, Health Specialist for AVSI Foundation, a local NGO in the region. “Many of our pregnant mothers have to travel more than 34 kilometers to reach facilities to access health care services. Before the lockdown, we developed a contingency plan to be able to reach PMTCT mothers during lockdown. We have been able to keep these mothers on ART services.”

As part of its initial response to COVID-19, AVSI Foundation is building the capacity of health facilities to deliver antiretroviral treatment and health services door to door. During the lockdown, HIV-positive mothers and pregnant women who have to travel long distances to access services and medicine to prevent transmission to their babies are now receiving antiretroviral treatment and health services at home. The foundation is also providing health facilities with fuel for vehicles to help them reach pregnant women and mothers who need services and medicine to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies.

In support of Uganda’s National COVID Preparedness Response Plan, the Global Fund is providing about US$4.5 million to fight COVID-19, shore up critical health systems, and ensure lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programs continue. As part of the initial response, the Ugandan Ministry of Health has prioritized the purchase of personal protective equipment for health workers and diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Additionally, the Global Fund is coordinating through our main civil society organization partner to strengthen differentiated service delivery models for key populations and people living with HIV in Uganda.