Seventeen children under the age of five have been identified as living with HIV, according to 2016 data from the Ministry of Health.

Seventeen children under the age of five have been identified as living with HIV, according to 2016 data from the Ministry of Health.

Head of the Health Ministry’s HIV/AIDS program Dr Frederico Bosco said in 2014 the government developed a policy with the aim of preventing HIV transmission from mother to child (PMTCT).

Under the program, every pregnant woman that attended a health facility was tested for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis in order to confirm their health status.

“When a pregnant woman tests positive for an infectious disease, particularly HIV, we provide them with routine control and treatment so their children are free from the virus when they give a birth,” he said at a HIV/AIDS prevention campaign at the Ministry of Interior.

He said although there was no cure for HIV, Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drugs helped to prolong the lives of patients and are available at all health facilities.

During the implementation stage, he said a number couples that wanted to have a baby had joined the program in order to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

He said the program had last year been successful in preventing a number of children from being infected by HIV-positive mothers.

He said mother-to-child transmission of HIV typically occurs through breastfeeding after delivery and during childbirth when the baby is exposed to the mother’s blood.

According to national data from the Ministry of Health for the period 2003 to July 2016, 600 people were registered as being HIV-positive and of that number 75 had died. However, by the end of 2016 that number had it increased to 642 cases and 80 deaths.

Of the 642 infected with HIV, 60% were aged 25 to 44, 28% between 15 to 24 ages, 8% were over 45 years of age, 3% were under five and 1% were between 6 and 14 years old.

Meanwhile, Executive Secretary for the National Commission for Combating HIV/AIDS in Timor-Leste, (KNKS-TL) Daniel Marçal said although the number of children infected with HIV was small, the government needed to continue prevention efforts as many people were already living with the virus.

“We hope that it is successful prevention program to prevent parent-to-child transmission,” he said.

He called on those who suspected they may have been exposed to HIV, including pregnant women, to visit their health facility to be tested.

He explained that HIV transmitted from person-to-person through sexual contact, injection equipment such as needles and blood donation from an infected person.

He therefore urged people to avoid risky sexual relations and drug use as anyone could be exposed to HIV if they did not take proper precautions.

HIV attacks the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to chronic disease and other infections.