|© UNICEF video|
|UNICEF-supported clinics in Djibouti are working to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.|
By Guy Degen
DJIBOUTI, Djibouti, 23 June 2008 – Shortly before giving birth to her second child, Saida, 22, became ill and was tested for HIV through a UNICEF-supported maternal health clinic. Saida now knows she is living with HIV, but her passion for life and her determination to care for her young family have not been diminished by the diagnosis.
"I would have been dead," Saida says. “They used to say it was tuberculosis to explain why people were dying. But now they test for HIV. They can take care of you and you can survive."
When Saida received her diagnosis, she immediately began a programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. The PMTCT programme provides women with free anti-retroviral drugs and health care for their children.
Saida lives with her two children on the outskirts of Djibouti's capital. Their cramped one-room dwelling is dimly lit and has no running water. Saida's only means of income is selling coffee, tea and meals in the city.
Thankfully, Saida's three-year-old son, Abdoubrazak, tested HIV-negative. One-year-old Abdillahi is not yet old enough to receive a conclusive test.
UNICEF is working to raise community awareness of HIV prevention and working with non-governmental organizations to provide social support to people like Saida who are living with HIV and AIDS.
|© UNICEF video|
|PMTCT programmes in Djibouti educate women on how to avoid AIDS, as well as providing health care and support for those who are living with the virus.|
A holistic approach
Djibouti's PMTCT programme was launched in 2003 and has rapidly expanded. There are now 19 clinics offering PMTCT services for pregnant women throughout the country.
UNICEF has helped Djibouti's health authorities develop a holistic approach to preventing mother-to-child transmission. At maternal health clinics, pregnant women are encouraged to take an HIV test. Patients are provided with HIV/AIDS education, counselling, medication and other forms of health care.
Younis Toussaint Centre Director Dr. Mohamed Abdellahi Goulan says the PMTCT programme is helping to prevent HIV transmission and enabling the health authorities to gather better statistics and insights regarding AIDS in the country.
"The benefits of the PMTCT experience in Djibouti are that more people are being tested for HIV, and testing is now a standard procedure," says Dr. Goulan.
Despite the high level of acceptance among pregnant women toward getting tested for HIV, less than a quarter of those who test positive actually follow up with treatment.
Lack of understanding about HIV/AIDS and fear of stigma remain a hurdle within the local communities.
"The challenge we have now is to ensure that close to 100 per cent of mothers who test positive for HIV are treated – as well as their children," says UNICEF Representative in Djibouti Dr. Aloys Kamuragiye.