South Africa has more than one million maternal orphans, said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in Parliament recently.
He said a high number of young mothers were HIV positive and many died while giving birth. He warned that this situation had a negative effect on South African society beyond health care, or teenage pregnancies and young husbands who lose direction in life when they lose their wives at such a young age.
Government is well aware of this situation and is taking special action to improve healthcare for mothers and babies, especially in relation to the issue of HIV, Motsoaledi said.
Government’s new approach to HIV will ensure that all pregnant women living with HIV get antiretroviral (ARV) treatment when their CD4 count drops below 350.
CD4 count, or T-cell count as it is sometimes called, are cells in our bodies that are attacked by HIV and used to make more copies of HIV. This weakens the immune system, making it unable to protect the body from illness
Prevention of mother-to-child transmission now starts at 14 weeks of pregnancy instead of 28 weeks. The Department of Health is also running intensive immunisations campaigns.
The department will also host a breastfeeding summit this month to look at the different types of feeding and the benefits of breastfeeding as part of its measures to prevent mother-to-child infection,
Minister Motsoaledi further noted the effects of diseases that are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle like unbalanced eating, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol abuse. These lead to more serious health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.
He said risk factors like smoking and alcohol abuse must be removed before diseases such as high blood pressure can be tackled effectively.
Powerful tobacco and alcohol companies can forget about government changing its mind on enforcing a total ban on advertising for these substances, he said.