HIV-positive mothers support groups help raise healthy children
Xai-Xai, Mozambique, 2010 – Today, like most other days of the week, Xai-Xai health centre is bustling with activity early in the morning. In the waiting room of the maternal and child health ward, some two dozen mothers are waiting, many with babies strapped on their back, sleeping amidst the noises.
Hortência brought her 14-month baby, Maria, for the at-risk child consultation. Maria is one of many children born to HIV-positive mothers, but HIV-free thanks to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV programme offered at the health centre since 2004, with support from UNICEF.
"When I was tested for HIV at the start of my pregnancy, the result was positive,” says Hortência. “I wanted my daughter to be born healthy, so I came to all the pre-natal consultations and complied with the medical advice I was given here.”
Soon after birth, Maria received a dose of the antiretroviral Nevirapine, and Hortência breastfed exclusively during the first six months, as recommended. Once a month, they went to the health centre to ensure that Maria was growing well.
"Maria was tested for HIV, and the result was negative. I feel very happy and encouraged,” explains Hortência, while helping the nurse to put Maria on the scale.
But Hortência concedes that it has not always been easy. The role of the HIV-positive mothers support group was critical to help her overcoming her fear and the stigma and discrimination she has suffered. With support from other HIV-positive pregnant women and mothers she remained hopeful that it would be worth following the PMTCT programme.
"When I informed my husband about the test result, I was not well received. He did not want to take the test and started discriminating me. But the support group made me feel better because I shared my fears and concerns with other women with the same problem. We helped each other," says Hortência.
Hortência says that at the mothers support group at Xai-Xai’s health centre she learned how to deal with HIV and AIDS and how best to care for Maria so that she can grow healthy. The most experienced women from the group taught her how to prepare nutritious meals for her baby as well as best hygiene practices.
"Thanks to them, I remained in the PMTCT programme – I even became an activist. Especially now that my daughter was born HIV-free I have been sharing my experience with other women here at the health centre, within my family and in my community," says Hortência with pride.
HIV-positive mothers support groups are an integral part of the PMTCT programme offered by the Ministry of Health since 2004. The aim is to help HIV-positive pregnant women and mothers to address socio-cultural barriers, and provide them with information and psychosocial support.
A study conducted in 2008 by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control, the International Training & Education Center on HIV and AIDS and UNICEF found that mothers support groups are an important intervention that can effectively improve the results of the nationwide PMTCT programme.
Significant progress has been made in reducing transmission of HIV from mother to child over the past few years in Mozambique. The number of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV sites across the country increased to over 740 in 2009, up from over 500 in 2008, 386 in 2007 and 222 in 2006.
The Ministry of Health aims to expand PMTCT services to all health facilities in the country with antenatal care and maternity wards, with the goal of reaching 861 facilities – almost 90 per cent of all facilities – by 2011.