Background : This study piloted the feasibility of infant testing in immunization services as a strategy for estimating MTCT rates among the population of HIV exposed infants in Zambia.
Methods : The study recruited a cross-sectional sample of 8,042 caregiver-baby pairs in 38 high volume immunization sites in 7 towns across 3 provinces of Zambia. All mothers who brought their children below the age of one year for immunization at the study facilities were invited to participate in the study. All consenting mothers were interviewed and blood drawn from their babies for; rapid HIV antibody test to determine exposure and DNA PCR test for samples of all HIV-exposed babies to determine HIV infection.
Results : Of 8,042 recruited caregiver-baby pairs, 1,409 (17.5 %) babies were HIV-exposed. Approximately 90.2 percent of all mothers of HIV exposed infants reported that they attended ANC visits more than two times and facility based deliveries stood at 91.6 percent. Exclusive breastfeeding among HIV exposed infants reduced with increase in age of infant; it was highest at 6 weeks (82.2 %) followed by 10 weeks (74.0 %) and 14 weeks (58.2 %) . MTCT rates were relatively lower than what was reported before at 4.7 percent among Penta 1 seekers, 2.8 percent among Penta 2 seekers, 2.1 percent among Penta 3 seekers and 5.0 percent among Measles vaccination seekers. The overall MTCT rate stood at 3.8 percent. About 48.1 percent of HIV positive babies were male compared to 51.9 percent females. Babies of mothers below the age of 25 years accounted almost half (51.9 %) of all HIV infected babies in the study. Reported exclusive breastfeeding among HIV positive babies was 77.8 percent for Penta 1 seekers, 75.0 percent for Penta 2 seekers and 100 percent for Penta 3 seekers.
Conclusion: The study succeeded in estimating MTCT rates using infant testing in immunization services, demonstrating that it is feasible to use routine infant testing in immunization services as a strategy for estimating MTCT rates among the population of HIV-exposed infants in countries with high HIV burden and immunization coverage.