MOTHER'S DAY APPEAL FROM MR. HANS OLSEN
This Mother’s Day, help keep mothers and babies together.
Mother's Day is an occasion for us all to thank our mothers for being there for us, for making us feel good, chasing away the bad dreams and teaching us to stand tall.
It is a time to remember how she smiled when you were happy, and comforted you when you were hurt or disappointed. Most of us will have reason to say, ‘Thank you, Mum’.
Every expectant mother’s dream is to give her child boundless love and care. But for some mums, that dream turns into a nightmare when the very acts of motherhood, to nurture and give life, end up transmitting HIV.
Every day, more than 1,000 babies worldwide are infected with HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, labour and delivery, or breastfeeding.
Without medical help, at least half of these babies will die before their second birthday.
UNICEF has long advocated for an intervention called ‘Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission’ (PMTCT), which uses antiretroviral drugs and antibiotics to protect babies from being infected by their mothers.
Kak Salmah (not her real name) is a mother living with HIV, in Kuala Lumpur. In September 2005, she developed a very high fever that lasted for two weeks. “I went to a government hospital and the doctor advised me to take a HIV test. When my test proved positive, I was shocked and thought why me? Of all people, why me? It was a terrible time for me. I cried continuously because I thought I was going to die and then who would take care of my son, who was only 4 years old then,” says Kak Salmah.
In 2010, when Kak Salmah got pregnant for the second time, she immediately visited a government hospital and received free medication under the Malaysian Ministry of Health’s PMTCT program. The hospital staff also educated her on how to take her medication and that she should give birth via a Caesarean section to reduce the risk of her unborn baby getting the virus.
When her baby girl, Lena (not her real name), was born in January 2011 and tested negative, she was overjoyed. “Every mother wants the best for her child. I was actually prepared for very bad news about the status of my baby. But I was so happy when they told me that the tests were negative,” says Kak Salmah. In the first six weeks after baby Lena was born, Kak Salmah had to give her antibiotics every day.
“The medications in the PMTCT program are very important, because they are not just for you, they are for your baby. During pregnancy, I would always take the medications, on the dot, without fail!” she says, cuddling three-month-old Lena on her shoulder.
UNICEF Malaysia is working with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development on a task force to advocate for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care to meet the special needs of girls and women in the country. The task force was set up to identify the need to strengthen social interventions and policies in order to meet the needs and protect the rights, of women and people living with HIV. UNICEF is also focused on developing policies that will seek to reverse the HIV infection rate among vulnerable groups such as children and most-at-risk adolescents.
Kak Salmah’s story is becoming a reality for more and more HIV-positive mothers all over the world.
In Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, a little boy named Elson is alive and healthy because he and his mother Inonge received the right medications under the PMTCT program.
Inonge, a schoolteacher, was terrified when she learnt that she had HIV and was pregnant. Fortunately, the nurses at Chelstone Clinic gave her preventative antibiotics during her pregnancy. With support from UNICEF, the clinic operates a program for preventing HIV transmission from mother to child.
When he was born, baby Elson was given antiretroviral drugs which his mother administered twice a day during the first seven days of his life and when he was breastfed.
At six weeks, Elson was tested for HIV and found to be free from the virus. It was of course a fantastic moment for Inonge. Today, she is back at home with her baby, relieved that this painful journey turned out to have a happy ending.
Overwhelming experience shows that PMTCT can help mothers and babies stay healthy and safe.
When a mother has access to PMTCT services like antiretroviral therapy, the chance of HIV transmission to her baby is less than 2%. Without treatment, an estimated one in two HIV-positive infants dies before their second birthday. This doesn't have to happen.
Prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) is the most effective way to create an HIV-free generation.
UNICEF is working hard to provide the HIV testing, counselling, medication and support mothers need to protect their children. There is real progress: in 2009, 53% of pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries received antiretrovirals (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission, compared to 45% in 2008. One of the most significant increases occurred in Eastern and Southern Africa, where the proportion jumped 10 percentage points to 68 per cent in 2009. But this is still not enough.
We need to do more! We need to reach the unreached.
This Mother’s Day, I would like to ask you for your continued support in helping us reach even more mother’s living with the virus so that their babies can be assured of having the best start in life. Your support means a lot.
For example, a donation of only RM150 can pay for antiretrovirals (medication for the treatment of HIV) for the treatment of 2 mothers and their children.
I want to thank you for making it possible for UNICEF to help HIV positive mothers to give the gift of life to their babies. Let us work together to build a world where every child is born free from HIV and AIDS.
Video: Infant HIV
A message about PMTCT
Unite against AIDS
• The Malaysian Launch