|© UNICEF video|
|Pascal, 12, is living with HIV in Burkina Faso. He was infected through his mother, Celine; she gave birth to him not knowing her own positive HIV status.|
By Guy Hubbard
OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso, 6 January 2009 – Until he started receiving life saving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, 12-year-old Pascal was often too sick to get out of bed. Today he is like any other child, laughing and playing with his younger brother, Bernard.
Pascal has been HIV-positive since birth, infected through his mother, Celine. She gave birth to him not knowing her own positive HIV status, and found out she was infected after Pascal was born, and after her husband had died.
“After my husband died, I was getting sick all the time,” she recalls. “I came to the clinic to find out what was wrong. I was advised to take the test and found out I was HIV-positive. I found out my child was positive in similar circumstances. He was so sick, he nearly died.”
Both mother and son were tested at Ouagadougou’s St. Camille clinic. The clinic has been the pioneering facility in Burkina Faso for HIV and AIDS care since 2001. Through the clinic’s HIV/AIDS programme, both Celine and her son started receiving ARV therapy. The medication saved their lives.
Preventing mother-to-child transmission
When she became pregnant a second time, Celine once again approached the clinic and enrolled in its prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme. She was just one of the 1,500 women who enrol each year.
The programme tests for HIV and provides treatment for those who test positive. At least 10 per cent of the women do turn out to be HIV-positive, but through PMTCT interventions, it’s no longer a given that their babies will become infected.
Dr. Tietra is the head of HIV and AIDS prevention at St. Camille. He credits the clinic’s success to good partnership.
“We were one of the first sites to begin a successful prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme in Burkina,” he says. “We did it with the support of UNICEF, WHO and the Ministry of Health in Burkina, and we are positive that it is going smoothly in the implementation. A sign of the success has been the significant reduction in transmission of HIV from HIV-positive pregnant women to their newborn babies.”
Children at risk
Although adult HIV prevalence in Burkina is estimated to be only about 1.6 per cent, children and youth are still at risk of infection. An estimated 10,000 children 14 and under were living with HIV in 2007, and 658 of those under 15 were receiving ARV therapy.
|© UNICEF video|
|Supported by UNICEF, Ouagadougou’s St. Camille clinic has been the pioneering facility in Burkina Faso for HIV and AIDS care since 2001.|
St. Camille’s is taking the lead in providing treatment to infected young people. The UNICEF-supported paediatric section receives referrals from all over the city, and at present is monitoring over 200 children who are either living with HIV or showing signs of having the virus.
Dr. Monica Vilazetti explains how it works: “The monitoring is done monthly of the children. If there’s a problem, we monitor more regularly, and we then decide if the child needs to be admitted or not. Antiretrovirals are given while monitoring the inpatient children’s condition and we check if there’s an improvement. When they go home we continue to provide anti-retroviral treatment."
“There is no hope if there is no treatment,” she adds. “Their chances of survival would be really, really limited.”
Awareness helps fight the disease
The fight against HIV and AIDS in Burkina Faso extends beyond St. Camille’s walls. A team of peer educators has taken to the streets. They’re part of the Reseau Africain Jeunesse Sante et Development network, which has over 1,500 clubs across the country.
Supported by UNICEF, they encourage their peers to discuss the frequently taboo topics surrounding HIV and Aids. They are just one of many groups who use advocacy and awareness to fight the disease.
Celine herself has joined ‘Help Me to Be a Mother’ – a group that assists and advises HIV-positive pregnant women. She offers them the hope that she herself now feels.
“I just can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the support of the clinic,” says Celine.