W.H.O recommended infant feeding options: assessment of the challenges faced by HIV positive mothers in Mongu District, Zambia
Kelakazola, Henry Ilunga Kasongo
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W.H.O infant feeding options are presented as a package in the prevention of HIV transmission from mother to child. These infant feeding options are namely exclusive breastfeeding, replacement feeding and other options such as wet nursing by a tested HIV negative woman and heat treated breast milk. However, in Zambia, like many other poor countries, the cultural attitude towards breastfeeding is that the breastfeeding period generally goes up to two years. This traditional way of feeding is so much rooted in local culture that any cessation of breastfeeding or any introduction of alternative feeding would be a source of concern at community and family levels. In addition, it is a well known fact that stigma and discrimination are still high in the country. It is with this background that we decided to carry out a study in Mongu district which aimed at assessing HIV positive mothers’ knowledge of WHO infant feeding options and looking at the challenges they face vis-à-vis these recommended feeding options. DATA COLLECTION METHODS A total of 10 experienced nurses, who have been working in the HIV/AIDS programme for more than 15 years, were trained in data collection. During home visit, semistructured questionnaires were used during face- to- face interviews of each HIV positive mother who voluntarily took part in the study. SAMPLING AND SAMPLE SIZE Systematic sampling technique was used to constitute our study sample. With this technique, a complete list of 5317 HIV positive mothers was constituted by listing all HIV positive mothers whose names were in the registers of PMTCT at the selected health institutions, and who had infants whose ages ranged from 6 months to 2 years. 1636 HIV positive mothers had babies whose ages were ranging between 6 months and 2 years. Out of the 1636 we selected randomly the first participant from the complete list, and then we went on selecting every 8th HIV positive mother up to the time we constituted a sample of 200 participants. Thereafter, the selected HIV positive mothers were visited individually in their respective households for interview by trained interviewers. During home visit, 5 selected participants declined to take part in our study while 195 HIV mothers voluntarily accepted to be interviewed. RESULTS Analysis of data collected from 195 HIV positive mothers revealed that 144 study participants or 73.8 %( 95% C I 67.6-80%) of all participants knew their status through the PMTCT programme where the “opt out” approach was used to routinely screen pregnant women for HIV during ante natal visit or when admitted to labour wards. It was also established that the assessment of knowledge among study participants of exclusive breastfeeding period was good. 96.9 %( 95% CI 95.66-98.14%) of participants stated that 6 months was the recommended duration for exclusive breastfeeding when the mother is HIV positive while only 3.07 %( 95% CI 0.65-5.49%) said that exclusive breastfeeding should go beyond 6 months. It was discovered that the majority of HIV positive mothers or 166 participants representing 85.1%(95% CI 80.1-90.1%) who participated in our study considered mixed- feeding as not appropriate for infant born from HIV positive mothers while 29 participants or 14.8%(95% CI 9.8-19.8%) said that mixed feeding was recommendable. It was also found that 95 participants representing 48.7 %( 95% CI 41.6- 55.7%) opted for exclusive breastfeeding, 61 participants or 31.2% (95% CI 24.7-37.7%) participants opted for formula milk while 39 or 20 %( 95% CI 14.4- 25.6%) of participants were mixed-feeding. It was discovered that 118 participants had breastfed. Among them, 53.4 %( 95% CI 46.4-60.4%) participants said that they had breastfeed for up to 6 months while 46.6 %( 95% CI 43-50.2%) said they had breastfeed for more than 6 months. Among those who had breastfed for more than 6 months, 58.1 %( 95% CI 54.6-61.6%) said that they had done so because of financial constraints; 21.8 %( 95% CI 16-27.6%) for fear of discrimination and stigmatization; and 20 %( 95% CI 14.4-25.6%) for fear of discrimination and stigmatization and financial constraints. We also discovered during our research that for the majority of study participants or 81.5%, the decision to opt for one of the infant feeding options was a product of discussion between the HIV positive mothers and other persons such as the husband, friends, relatives and health care provider. CONCLUSION In our study we discovered that though the knowledge of PMTCT and WHO infant feeding options among study participants was good, fear of stigmatization, discrimination and abandonment was high among interviewees. This fear explains why the implementation of WHO infant feeding options is still a serious challenge amongst HIV positive mothers in Mongu, as many HIV positive mothers do not want to be seen in the community as people carrying the virus. It is also for the same reason that our study participants had to choose people to whom to talk to about their HIV positive status and with who to discuss their chosen infant feeding options. Further, due to the high level of poverty among Mongu residents, financial constraint was another major challenge in the implementation of WHO recommended infants feeding options.