Following in Cuba’s footsteps, health professionals in Ecuador have taken creative strides to end mother-to-child HIV transmission. Students at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, many of them from Ecuador, designed a small pouch to deliver antiretroviral medication to infants. Viewing the small ketchup-sachet-shaped containers, one would never guess that these packets save thousands of lives.
Infants born to mothers with HIV must take antiretroviral medicine during their first weeks of life to reduce the risk of transmission. However, as many parents can attest, delivering exact dosages to new-born children is no easy task.
As Rosa, a mother in Ecuador described, “We used to get a small bottle with a dropper, but that spilled and it was difficult to measure the dose.” She continued, “But now with the pouch it is easy to put all the liquid in the baby’s mouth without spilling or spoiling it.”
The pouches offer exact dosages, avoid contact with the air, and, as Rosa described, are easier to administer to infants. The elegant pouches reached South America’s biggest maternity hospital, the Enrique Sotomayor Hospital in Guayaquil, through the help of Humberto Mata. Mata, a car parts seller and former politician of the Guayas State, started the VIDHA foundation with his husband after he witnessed many young Americans die from complications due to HIV. He strove to prevent children from getting HIV by making medication more accessible in hospitals.
Thanks to the collaboration of students, advocates like Mata, and health professionals, 30,000 medicine pouches are in circulation at clinics worldwide, greatly reducing transmission. However, the goal to end HIV is far from over in Ecuador or in other countries.
“Could you believe that 40% of Ecuadorians believe HIV is transmitted by mosquitoes?” Mata asked, based on recent statistics. In addition, the stigma associated with HIV remains a large issue in Ecuador.
One Ecuadorian mother explained that her family considered her dead after finding out she had the virus.
“They even built a tomb in a cemetery here in Guayaquil and take flowers to it every month,” she said.
In addition to access to medication, ending transmission requires sexual education and an end to the negative attitude associated with HIV, which prevents people from seeking out treatment. Let’s continue to help Ecuador take steps in the right direction.