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Botswana: Breastfeeding is Safe for HIV+ Mothers

Francistown — For decades, Batswana believed that breastfeeding by an HIV positive mother was a big no-no to the point where some even considered it immoral even to think of it.
Speaking at a BOTUSA/MISA workshop themed "New Directions in HIV and AIDS" at Marang Hotel here last week, Dr Molly Smit said research had shown that breastfeeding by HIV positive mothers was not as horrible as earlier believed.
Smit, who works with the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) project for BOTUSA in Francistown, told the workshop: "Breast milk is not as bad as we thought because research has shown that (only) four percent of children can get infected through breastfeeding."

Smit explained that if a mother breastfed her baby without alternating it with formula or baby food for six months, the baby would get all the nutritious benefits without much exposure to the virus.


The Acting Director of BOTUSA, Dr Michael Thigpen, said though Batswana had known that breastfeeding was bad for HIV positive mothers for a long time, there had been developments proven by research.


"What we have learned is that when a baby is breastfed exclusively for six months without mixing it with formula or food, they will benefit from their mother's breast milk," Thigpen said.


He said even though they still they did not know why it was so, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had shown that breastfed babies benefited the most as far as nutrition was concerned and that this had certainly changed their thinking about the breast milk of HIV positive mothers.


But he emphasised that it was important to understand that this was solely up to a mother to decide, especially in Botswana. "Botswana has one of the best feeding plans," he said, "but in other countries like DRC or Kenya where they do not have a solid programme, they are pushing for mothers to breastfeed exclusively."


Dr Poloko Kebaabetswe of HIV Prevention Research at BOTUSA said it was going to be important to package the messages in a way that people would understand that it is their choice.


"We will have to know how to present and package the messages, otherwise we will have a disaster," she said.


 Source: allAfrica