An AIDS-Free Generation
The Huffington Post
Rhonda I. Zygocki
Executive Vice President, Policy and Planning, Chevron Corporation
Unoma, a 26-year-old farm worker in Bayelsa state, Nigeria, recently had her third child. Her previous two children were born without prenatal care and her last was delivered in unsafe conditions on a farm at the hands of other farmworkers like herself — a common occurrence for many women across sub-Saharan Africa. But her experience with this child was different: For the first time, Unoma knew she can and should be tested for HIV/AIDS, and, if necessary, how to prevent transmission of the disease to her child. Thanks to a partnership between Chevron and the international NGO Pact, Unoma had been encouraged to visit a primary health clinic. After being tested, Unoma received news that she and her youngest child are HIV-free. Today, we are pleased to announce that this successful partnership we call PROMOT is expanding to reach thousands more like Unoma.
Unfortunately, most women in Bayelsa state are without this kind of care. Women remain disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS; in sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60 percent of people living with AIDS and social norms prevent them from getting the care and knowledge they need. As a result, they unknowingly pass the virus to their children in the womb, at birth or through breastfeeding. In Nigeria, nearly 70,000 children are born with HIV per year. This total represents close to 20 percent of children born with HIV around the world each year and the largest number of new HIV infections among children — all in just one country. Baylesa state, where Unoma lives, has the third-highest HIV prevalence rate in Nigeria and more than double the prevalence of HIV compared with Nigeria as a whole. And despite increased funding and program support in Nigeria in the past several years, the reduction in new HIV infections in children has lagged, with only a seven percent decline from 2009-2012.
These statistics are sobering. But ending HIV transmission from mother to child remains one of the most achievable ways to realize an AIDS-free generation — with the potential to bring about an end to new infections, keep mothers alive, improve the health of women around the globe and eventually end the epidemic. As a global community, we will not reach elimination of mother-to-child transmission without significantly accelerating the rate of reduction in new HIV infections among children — especially in Nigeria.
The Pact-Chevron partnership and PROMOT project demonstrates one way we can accelerate the solution. The partnership contributes to the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by supporting community-based organizations in implementing prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services in Bayelsa state. Locally-trained health workers and community organizations conduct village meetings and home visits, bringing appropriate education and assistance to those who need it. Pact works to garner government support and build community-based organizations’ capacity to carry on work in PMTCT beyond the life of the project, ensuring sustainability. In addition, Pact and Chevron have leveraged technology in our effort to educate, creating a mobile application that provides information, guidance and medication reminders for patients.
Based on Pact’s initial baseline survey, roughly half of the people in Bayelsa do not know there are ways women with HIV can prevent transmitting the virus to their child and more than half have never had an HIV test. Our goal is to raise the number of pregnant women in Bayelsa who are tested for HIV to 50 percent (currently 35 percent) and to increase the percentage of HIV-exposed infants who are tested to 60 percent. In its first year, the project helped test 7,382 pregnant women for HIV — 20 percent more women than had been tested the previous year — and trained 148 community health workers. This progress and these successes are why Chevron is helping to expand PROMOT throughout all of Bayelsa with an additional $1.7 million with commitment. This additional commitment raises the company’s five-year investment for the PROMOT Project to $5.3 million.
We have seen the power of this partnership and know that when businesses, nonprofits and governments work together they can truly have an impact on their communities. Through our partnership, Pact and Chevron have learned how to leverage talent, expertise and best practices from all sides to develop innovative solutions. That is why we are calling on others to take up the challenge of ending mother-to-child transmission by 2015, making a difference in women’s lives around the world. Join us in realizing an AIDS-free generation — a world where women are unburdened by HIV/AIDS and the threat of passing it on to their children. Together we can ensure that women like Unoma get the education and support they need to know their status and make informed decisions.