Community-based assessment of infant feeding practices within a programme for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission in rural Zimbabwe

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Abstract

Objective

To describe the infant feeding practices and attitudes of women who used prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services in rural Zimbabwe.

Design

A cross-sectional study including structured interviews and focus group discussions was conducted between June 2003 and February 2004.

Setting

The study took place in Murambinda Mission Hospital (Buhera District, Manicaland Province), the first site offering PMTCT services in rural Zimbabwe.

Subjects

The interviews targeted HIV-infected and HIV-negative women who received prenatal HIV counselling and testing and minimal infant feeding counselling, and who delivered between 15 August 2001 and 15 February 2003. The focus groups were conducted among young and elderly men and women.

Results

Overall, 71 HIV-infected and 93 HIV-negative mothers were interviewed in clinics or at home. Most infants (97%) had ever been breast-fed. HIV-negative mothers introduced fluids/foods other than breast milk significantly sooner than HIV-infected mothers (median 4.0 vs. 6.0 months, P=0.005). Infants born to HIV-negative mothers were weaned significantly later than HIV-exposed infants (median 19.0 vs. 6.0 months, P=10−5). More than 90% of mothers reported that breast-feeding their infant was a personal decision, a third of whom also mentioned having taken into account health workers' messages.

Conclusion

The HIV-infected mothers interviewed were gradually implementing infant feeding practices recommended in the context of HIV. Increased infant feeding support capacity in resource-limited rural populations is required, i.e. training of counselling staff, decentralised follow-up and weaning support.

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