Mother-to-child transmission of HIV remains a significant public health challenge in Haiti. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 5,700 children were living with HIV in Haiti as of 2021. Additionally, an estimated 86,000 Haitian women over age 15 were living with HIV. This suggests the need for more work in the fight against mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Haiti.
Challenges in Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV in Haiti
One of the critical challenges in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Haiti is the lack of maternal care. According to the World Economic Forum, more than 60% of pregnant women in Haiti give birth at home with an attendant. Furthermore, one-third of Haitian women do not attend antenatal care (ANC) visits that can identify high-risk pregnancies. Therefore, many women “do not know whether they have signs of complications and if it is safer for them to deliver at a hospital.” This means that many pregnant women in Haiti are not receiving the necessary medical care and information needed to prevent the transmission of HIV to their children.
Poverty and gender inequality are also significant factors contributing to the spread of HIV in Haiti, where ongoing violence and recent fuel shortages have further restricted access to health care. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a sexual and reproductive health agency, Haitian women and girls are particularly affected by the multiple crises that the country faces. As of October 2022, an estimated 30,000 pregnant women were “at risk of being unable to access essential health care,” increasing the risk of HIV transmission. UNFPA also estimated that, by the end of 2022, “around 7,000 survivors of sexual violence could be left without medical and psychosocial support.” As such figures suggest, Haitian women and girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV due to gender-based violence, lack of education and limited economic opportunities.
Addressing These Challenges
To combat these challenges, the Haitian government and its partners are implementing several initiatives to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. A noteworthy example is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief (PEPFAR), which provides antiretroviral therapy (ART) to people living with HIV in Haiti, including pregnant women, to reduce the risk of transmission to their children.
Initiatives like the Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) partnership are also helping to increase women’s and girls’ access to HIV testing and counseling in high-risk countries. Led by USAID, DREAMS aims to reduce HIV rates among adolescent girls and young women by partnering with public and private organizations at the national and local levels to address the gender-based inequities that increase their vulnerability to HIV. Simultaneously, The World Bank is collaborating with the Ministry of Public Health and Population to increase access to antenatal care services and improve the quality of care provided.
Finally, the Fondation pour la Santé Reproductrice et l’Education Familiale (FOSERF) is a non-governmental organization that has been serving the Haitian population since 1988. It offers reproductive and maternal health services and programs to support the prevention and treatment of HIV and other infectious diseases. The organization also reaches women in other ways, including providing counseling services for rape victims, spreading awareness among sex workers and offering training to give sex workers alternatives to prostitution.
Hope for the Future
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV remains a significant public health challenge in Haiti. Yet, many efforts are underway to improve access to health care and education in Haiti, with a specific focus on reducing HIV transmission and providing on-the-ground support for the vulnerable and infected. These initiatives are making positive impacts while inspiring hope for the future of Haitian mothers and children.
– Nathalie Altidor