I’ve spent much of the past five years of my life traveling to various regions throughout Africa, with an intense interest in the impact of HIV/AIDS and what can be done to combat the devastating pandemic. During the course of my experiences and travel, I became increasingly inspired by the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programs I encountered along the way, what I saw as their extraordinary potential and vital contribution to the hope of one day seeing a new HIV free generation on the continent.
I decided to make a documentary about the subject of PMTCT, in the most intimate and accessible way I could imagine, by centering the story on the very moving and poignant experiences of one mother: a mother caught in a desperate fight to save her unborn child from her disease and all that transforms and changes her in the process. Knowing that the success of such an endeavor rests solely upon its heroine, I could not have found a more inspiring or embodying catalyst than I did in the film’s protagonist, Mutinta Mweemba. Mutinta is one of the most stunning and remarkable women I’ve ever met and she continues to serve as an endless source of inspiration for me.
While my highest aspiration for THE CARRIER is that it should help to create more widespread interest and awareness in what is a profoundly important cause to me, that of one day seeing a new HIV free generation in Africa, making the film also involved a number of very personal and aesthetic aspirations as well. Having grown up with an inexhaustible passion for film, both fiction and non-fiction, much of the effort was also about exploring the different boundaries of documentary story-telling, striving to create a more aesthetic, atmospheric as well as intensely cinematic experience for its audience.
To see an HIV Free Generation.
A generation of babies could be born free of HIV/AIDS if the international community stepped up efforts to provide universal access of Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission, treatment and social protection for all mothers afflicted with the disease.
Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT).
Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the most affected region of the world with women and children living with AIDS. The fact that close to 60 percent of all infections in sub-Saharan Africa are found among women of reproductive ages - between 19 and 50 years old -makes PMTCT a life and death issue.
Mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS accounts for the vast majority of the more than 700,000 estimated new HIV infections in children worldwide annually.
About 90 percent of mother to child transmission infections occur in Africa, where AIDS is beginning to reverse decades of steady progress in child survival. Without proper treatment, close to 15 to 30 percent of babies born to HIV positive women become infected with HIV during pregnancy and delivery. Furthermore, 5 to 20 percent become infected through breastfeeding.
Mother to child transmission has been virtually eliminated in many wealthy countries thanks to effective voluntary testing and counseling as well as access to therapy and safe delivery practices. If these interventions were used worldwide, they could save the lives of thousands of children each year.
HIV/AIDS is increasingly contributing to morbidity and mortality in children in Zambia, a country of 11 million people and with one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world.
With a national HIV prevalence rate of 14 percent and an estimated 19 percent among pregnant women, it is no wonder that HIV and AIDS have become major killers of children. Each year, it is estimated that 100,000 HIV positive Zambian women give birth. Nearly 40 percent of those women not enrolled in a PMTCT program will transmit infection to their babies. Without any intervention, one third of the children born with HIV will die by their first birthday, and half by their second. The majority of these deaths could be avoided through comprehensive PMTCT programs, early infant diagnosis and timely provision of effective care, treatment and support.
The Government of the Republic of Zambia's Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Program started as a pilot in 1999 at the Keemba Rural Health Center, which continues to serve the community where Mutinta and Maggie Mweemba receive care. By 2010, more than 60 percent of all pregnant women living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia were able to access free PMTCT services, protecting their newborns from the virus.
To further protect newborns from HIV and to care for the health of expectant mothers, the Ministry of Health in 2010 adopted new PMTCT guidelines from the World Health Organization that recommend starting anti-retroviral treatment for pregnant women during the 14th week of pregnancy. The guidelines include providing Nevirapine to newborns - this will also protect babies from HIV while breastfeeding.
We are partnering with a number of key organizations on a global campaign to help make this dream, of an HIV Free generation for Africa, a reality. Please check back soon for further information about how you can become involved and make a difference.