|© UNICEF Togo/2008/Bonnaud|
|Amivi, a 27-year-old Togolese mother who is living with HIV, has received free anti-retroviral treatment every day for the past four years.|
By Hadrien Bonnaud
LOMÉ, Togo, 22 July 2009 – Amivi, 27, who is living with HIV, has gone to a health centre every day for the past four years to receive free anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment. One recent day, she was at the centre not only for her own medical care but to follow up on the HIV status of her 18-month-old daughter, Yabo.
During her pregnancy, Amivi received ARV treatment for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV at a UNICEF supported centre here at Lomé’s Bè Hospital. But she could not be sure of her daughter’s status until now.
“The doctor told me that at the beginning of a baby’s life, it is the mother’s blood which is flowing in the baby’s veins. Then, progressively, the child produces its own blood and antibodies,” said Amivi. “When Yabo was one, she tested positive [for HIV]. Today, my daughter did the second test, the 18-month one, and she is negative. What a relief!”
Expanded testing and treatment
In Togo, where 3.3 per cent of the population and a higher percentage of pregnant women are HIV-positive, only about 20 per cent of expectant mothers are tested for the virus. Out of some 8,000 HIV-positive pregnant women living in Togo in 2007, only 11.5 per cent were receiving PMTCT treatment.
According to national survey data, 4 out of 10 Togolese women are not even aware that such treatment exists – so they don’t automatically think about taking an HIV test when they get pregnant.
In order to increase access to HIV testing and ARV treatment in Togo, UNICEF is expanding its support of 45 existing facilities and planning to help open 30 new PMTCT centres by the end of this year.
Overcoming stigma, speaking out
Like most Togolese, Amivi lives below the poverty line. When she was 20, she met a man who gave her money in exchange for unprotected sex, which led to her infection with HIV – about which she was initially in a state of denial.
“He was giving me as much as 1,000 CFA or 2,000 CFA [between $2 and $4],” she said.
When Amivi discovered that she was pregnant, she did not immediately go to a doctor, as pre-natal health care was beyond her means. She gave birth to a son who died shortly after birth.
At this point, she decided to accept that she was living with HIV.
|© UNICEF Togo/2008/Pudlowski|
|A pregnant woman is sensitized on HIV prevention during a pre-natal consultancy in Togo.|
When Amivi became pregnant the second time, she overcame her natural shyness and the social stigma attached to HIV, speaking out about the virus and offering other women advice on how to prevent it.
“As a mother, it is my duty to accept my status,” she said. “If no one had informed me that pre-natal consultations for HIV-positive people were free at Bè Hospital, my daughter might already be dead.”
A lesson for her peers
Amivi is engaged and pregnant again. She is hopeful that the PMTCT treatment that saved Yabo’s life will protect her new baby as well. Indeed, thanks to the services provided at Bè Hospital’s PMTCT centre, the baby has a 95 per cent chance of not being infected with HIV.
UNICEF aims to contribute to the scaling up of the national PMTCT programme in Togo through the creation of 100 new centres by 2012. As a result, 80 per cent of Togolese women will be able to benefit from prevention services.
And Amivi aims to continue telling her story as a lesson for her peers. “I don’t want my daughter to suffer as I have,” she declared. “My story is that of every woman in Africa.”