|© UNICEF Niger/2009/Bisin|
|Rachidai, 28, sits in the courtyard of the Association for Women Acting Against HIV/AIDS in Niamey, Niger, with her eight-month-old son and six-year-old daughter.|
By Sandra Bisin
NIAMEY, Niger, 12 May 2009 – At Poudrière hospital in Niamey, Dr. Irène Adeossi is checking the height and weight of six-year-old Aminatou. The little girl tested positive for HIV three years ago and, since then, has been receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment that is especially adapted to her age.
Dr. Adeossi is pleased to find that Aminatou has gained weight and grown a half a centimetre since her last visit.
“When the nurse told me that Aminatou was HIV-positive, I almost fainted. I wanted to die,” remembers Aminatou’s mother, Rachida (both the mother’s and daughter’s names have been changed for this story). She and her husband were HIV-positive, Rachida explains, adding: “We decided that Aminatou should also get tested once she reached 18 months. But I was hoping that somehow, she would not be infected by the virus.”
Rachida lost her husband a year ago. A few months later, she gave birth to a baby boy. She had been receiving treatment for prevention of mother-to-child transmission, or PMTCT, and is hoping for the best.
“There is still a chance for my son to test HIV-negative. We will only know it in another nine months,” says Rachida.
Treatment for mothers and children
To reduce the risks of mother-to-child transmission, women living with HIV receive AZT tablets from the sixth month of their pregnancy and a nevirapine tablet during labour.
The same drugs are given to the newborn baby in droplet form. Eighteen months later, when the child no longer carries the mother’s antibodies, he or she will undergo an HIV test.
“It is important that HIV-infected children do not miss out on the medical treatment they need … that is specific to their age and their condition,” says UNICEF Niger Health Specialist M. Adama Ouedraogo.
|© UNICEF Niger/2009/Bisin|
|At Poudrière Hospital in Niamey, Dr. Irène Adeossi, trained by UNICEF, checks Aminatou’s height.|
PMTCT services are supported by UNICEF at 153 health centres and hospitals throughout Niger. In 2008, with UNICEF’s support, 445 Nigerien infants exposed to HIV in utero received prophylactic antibiotics. In addition, over 800 pregnant women who had tested positive for HIV received PTMCT treatment, and close to 16,000 women accepted HIV testing during their first antenatal care visit.
From stigma to reintegration
Rachida is one of over 100 HIV-positive mothers who are members of the Association for Women Acting Against HIV/AIDS. Based in Niamey and supported by UNICEF, the organization provides psychosocial support and counselling to women living with HIV.
“Helping these women gain access to income-generating activities is the best way to ensure their survival, as well as their children’s,” says association President Djamma Amadou. “Many of the women that come to the centre suffer from social stigma. Getting a job and earning a living is the first step towards reintegration within their communities.”
To that end, mothers can enroll in micro-credit schemes, which enable them to start small businesses and earn a living. Rachida has received a $100 loan from the organization to start producing maize flour, which she sells to her neighbours to cook a traditional dish called ‘la pate’.
“I earn on average between 2,000 and 3,000 Francs CFA [about US$5] per day. I will be able to reimburse the loan within six months,” Rachida says with a smile.