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Nurse filling dispenser with medication

Emily, a nurse at Vihiga District Hospital, fills a dispenser with antiretroviral medication that will help an HIV-positive mother protect her baby against infection.

Helping mothers protect their children against HIV

Imagine how helpless an HIV-infected mother feels, knowing that there is one chance in four she’ll pass the deadly infection to her baby. More than half a million children are infected with HIV each year, most of them through transmission from their mothers.

At Vihiga District Hospital in Kenya, a nurse named Emily sees women every day who are HIV positive and pregnant and who must be prepared, by the time they deliver, to protect their babies from the virus the mothers carry. Over the noise and bustle of the hospital, Emily talks to them about risk—and about hope.

With a birth dose of nevirapine, a powerful antiretroviral drug, mothers can cut the HIV threat to their babies by more than half. Boehringer Ingelheim, the developer of the drug, has donated enough nevirapine to Emily’s clinic to save dozens of newborns each month from being infected.

But getting that drug to the women whose children are at risk, many of whom will give birth far from the hospital’s stores of medication, can be so difficult that the lifesaving drug never makes the journey. Many health workers have resorted to makeshift methods to protect the nevirapine during travel, wrapping it and the oral dispenser in tinfoil, paper towels, tape. It’s all too easy for the medicine to be lost or damaged.

PATH made it simple for health workers like Emily to send nevirapine home with mothers-to-be, with a new kind of packaging: a sealable foil pouch that holds a dispenser with the  infant’s dose. The medication stays clean and protected until it is used, even if the woman takes it home weeks before her delivery.

In 2006, Emily used the nevirapine pouch for the first time, part of a pilot project to find out how well it would work once off the drawing board and into nurses' hands. The response was so strong that Kenya's National AIDS Program will use the pouch nationwide, and other organizations committed to slowing the spread of HIV among Africa's children are following suit. And in 2007, through a collaboration facilitated by PATH, Boehringer announced that it would include the pouch as a standard part of its global donation program. Thanks to PATH's ability to partner with the private sector, Emily and other health workers can have new hope for the lives of the children in the communities they serve.

Emily has new hope for the lives of the children in the communities she serves—and for the future of her country.

Photo: Wendy Stone.