|© UNICEF Indonesia/2008|
|Umi and her baby, Keisya, have benefited from UNICEF-supported care providing treatments designed to help prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Indonesia.|
By Daniel Ziv
GRESIK, Indonesia, 25 August 2008 – Umi was just like any other girl in Gresik, a sweltering port city in East Java. But one night, some older male friends invited her to a party, where she was shown an assortment of strange needles and syringes.
“I was clueless then as to what that stuff was,” Umi recalled. “But now I’m pretty sure it was shabu-shabu [crystal methamphetamine].”
What happened next would change Umi’s life forever. “Ten of us shared two needles that were passed around and re-used. I was barely 17 and knew nothing of the danger, or even who those people really were,” she said.
It wasn’t until four years later, when one of her acquaintances from the party died of complications from AIDS, that the consequences became known. She got tested, and was crushed when she learned that she was HIV-positive.
First denial, then hope
Umi quit her factory job and for the next seven months remained at home - untreated, unchecked and in denial – until one day when Yohana, a nurse from the local health department, showed up at her front door.
“She somehow tracked me down through my file. She saved me,” Umi said. “She took me for coffee and explained everything I wanted to know about my condition. She gave me medical advice and contacts and, incredibly, a bit of hope.”
One of Umi’s greatest hopes had been to start a family, an option she didn’t think was possible after contracting HIV. When Yohana explained that motherhood was still possible, Umi was overjoyed.
“I began venturing out again and even took a job working at a mobile phone stall near the local mall,” she said. “That’s where I met my future husband.”
An early caesarean
When Umi became pregnant she was referred to the UNICEF-supported prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme at Dr. Soetomo hospital in Surabaya, where she was given anti retroviral drugs, also known as ARVs, and counselling.
At eight and a half months, an ultrasound showed that the baby had a weak heartbeat. Umi was rushed in for an early caesarean.
Immediately after delivery, baby Keisya and her mother were given ARVs for a week and taken off the drugs as soon as their CD4 counts were satisfactory (based on a blood test that measures the immune system's strength after a diagnosis of HIV infection). Umi will have to wait until her baby is 18 months old to find out her status.
‘I’m optimistic now’
UNICEF is working with local partners to expand PMTCT programmes across Indonesia so that all pregnant mothers can access the kind of counselling and treatment that Umi received. It is also expanding HIV prevention activities among young people, so that they are aware of the dangers of drug use and unprotected sex.
The need for such interventions is clear. According to UNAIDS, 54,000 Indonesian girls and women over the age of 15 were living with HIV in 2007, up from 10,000 in 2001.
Umi, now 23, has a new job selling cosmetics. She delights in spending time with Keisya and is using her own experiences to help Via, a newly pregnant woman also living with HIV.
“It’s been such an emotional struggle for me,” said UMI, “but I’m optimistic now.”