|Ntsioua, a young mother in Lesotho, with her first child, Nthatisi. “I want her to grow up well, to attend school, and I want her to live a better life,” Ntsioua says.|
By Nora Nonet
MASERU, Lesotho, 21 October 2008 – In this small kingdom in Southern Africa – which has the third-highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, at 23 per cent – one in three pregnant women in antenatal care is living with the virus. At any given time, thousands of babies are at risk of contracting HIV as it passes from mother to child during pregnancy or birth.
Photographer Gideon Mendel has recorded the personal stories of seven women living with HIV in Lesotho. Collected on behalf of the UK Committee for UNICEF, along with accompanying photos, their stories form the basis of a UNICEF Radio special report (Real player).
The women are from various regions of the country. Some of them have benefited from prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services, which reduce the chances of babies being born with HIV. Others have suffered without access to these vital services. All of them have experienced the natural emotions of pregnancy and birth, as well as the deeper fears of passing HIV to their babies.
|© UNICEF UK/2007/Mendel|
|Mathato, a mother at home with her baby Mpho, who was often sick as a newborn but slowly improved with antiretroviral treatments.|
Limited access to treatment
The Government of Lesotho, with UNICEF’s support, has increased the number of clinics and hospitals offering PMTCT treatment.
In these clinics, UNICEF works to ensure that every pregnant mother is tested for HIV, given counselling and advice, and, if necessary, put on a life-saving antiretroviral drug regime. Within eight hours of a baby’s birth, midwives trained by UNICEF can administer a dose of Nevirapine and AZT to hinder HIV transmission.
Funding for these efforts remains limited, however, and less than 20 per cent of all women living with HIV here have access to PMTCT services. As a result, 1 in 10 new cases of HIV infection in Lesotho is caused by mother-to-child transmission. And for babies living with HIV, the chances of survival are slim; without appropriate care and treatment, more than half will die before their second birthday.
Dream of an HIV-free future
UNICEF is working to roll out PMTCT services to all clinics in Lesotho, towards a future in which all babies are born free of HIV.
“The prevention of HIV [transmission] from mother to child is very important, because we need a new generation in this country who are not HIV-positive,” said Mathakane Metseng, one of the young women interviewed by Mr. Mendel. “My hope is that within five years, there will be no more HIV-positive babies born in Lesotho.
“By then,” she continued, “all of the women should have tested themselves and, if they are positive, have the knowledge about how to prevent the virus passing to their babies. That is my dream.”
Listen to a special report from the UK Committee for UNICEF on mothers, children and HIV in Lesotho.