Patterns and attitudes towards breastfeeding in the era of HIV/AIDS : a case study of Greater Mafikeng District in the North West Province in the Republic of South Africa
Malakane, Shirley M
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HN/AIDS in South Africa has grown to very serious proportions. An estimated number of 5.3million South Africans are infected with HIV and the majority of these infections are in the reproductive age group. Based on Annual Antenatal survey 2002,of the total 2.95 million were women aged 15-49, with an estimation of 91271 babies infected through mother to child transmission. Breastfeeding is said to be an ideal food for growth and development of a child. Given that HIV is transmissible through breastfeeding, the paper aims at examining patterns and attitudes towards breastfeeding in the era of HIV/AIDS. A total of 400 respondents drawn from Mafikeng district were interviewed. The majority were aged 20-39, never married, rural, unemployed with high school level of education. Areas of interest were knowledge about HIV/AIDS, patterns of breastfeeding and attitudes towards alternative methods of infant feeding for an HIV positive mother. Previous reports gave clarity to HIV transmission rates at various stages of life. Evidence has shown that rates of transmission are higher in early stages than late stages of life. Few weeks of life from 6-8 weeks may particularly be a period of high risk than ages above three months. Transmission might have occurred during pregnancy, labor or through breastfeeding, whereby data has shown that colostrums have high concentration of Human Immune Virus than mature milk. The study shows that breastfeeding is still regarded as an important infant feeding method that is ideal for child's growth and development but HIV infection is seen as a disturbing factor to successful breastfeeding. Fifty four percent of respondents did not breastfeed exclusively as promoted by UNICEF and WHO; mean duration for exclusive breastfeeding is two months, support is given by SADHS 1998, mean duration for complementary feeding is two months which gives an indication that more infants are at higher risk of contracting the virus should their mothers test positive which in turn gives rise to high infant /childhood morbidity and mortality rates. There is a need to strengthen and expand programmes such as VCT and PMTCT in all communities especially in rural setting where there is lack of pure water supply and proper sanitation. Efforts to reduce the risk of transmission should therefore be centered on promoting the understanding that mixed feeding or breastfeeding with supplementary feeding carries the highest risk of HIV transmission compared to exclusive breastfeeding or exclusive formula feeding.
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