How one woman’s decision changed her life and her baby’s forever
By Victor Chinyama
Lonely Muyila was devastated when she learnt in 2005 that she was HIV positive. Despite several weeks of treatment, her husband’s cough had continued unabated and when his medical provider suggested an HIV test, he refused.
Lonely’s decision to test for HIV against the wishes of her husband was brave and was to later turn out a lifesaver.
“I was expecting our fifth child when I learnt of my HIV status,’ she says. “The doctors did several other tests and put me on antiretroviral treatment.”
Lonely was on the treatment until she gave birth in April 2007. She worried about having transmitted the HIV virus to her baby but when the doctors tested the baby after six weeks, they found him with no HIV.
“I was jubilant beyond words,” she says. “My decision to test and to be on treatment had not only saved my life but that of my baby as well.”
Lonely’s husband died in March 2007, a month before his baby’s birth, unwilling to know what lay at the root of his ailments, adamant in his refusal to be tested for HIV.
For Lonely, the journey had just begun. She was counselled to exclusively breastfeed her baby for at least six months, her only means of providing healthy nutrition to the baby. Poor and jobless, she also had to look after four children with no sustainable means of income.
“Food was and still is a problem,” she says. “I receive help from relatives to pay for my children’s school needs.”
The antiretroviral treatment enabled Lonely to recover her body weight and strength to the extent that she is able to cultivate her own food. Before the treatment, she says, she was unable to do any work as she always sickly with malaria and other common illnesses.
Lonely has continued attending the PMTCT programme where she receives counselling on infant feeding and reproductive health. Her baby continues to be monitored until he reaches 18 months when he will be graduated from the programme.
Mrs. Angela Nkhoma, the coordinator of the PMTCT programme in Kasungu District says about 70 per cent of all babies born in the PMTCT programme turn out HIV negative.
“Kasungu District Hospital was the only health facility offering PMTCT services in the district in 2004,” she says. “The PMTCT programme has since been extended to all the 23 health centres in the district. UNICEF funded the training of health workers in PMTCT as part of the expansion programme.”
Nationally, the PMTCT programme had expanded from one PMTCT site in 2001 to all 544 health facilities by June 2009. Thanks to UNICEF funded community mobilisation efforts, the number of pregnant women accessing HIV testing increased from 320 in 2002 to more than 400,000 in 2008, representing nearly 70 per cent of all women who became pregnant that year. The number of HIV positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV also increased from just 84 in 2002 to over 30,000 in 2008.