HIV positive mothers help to prevent the transmission of HIV to children
Beira, Sofala Province, November 2010 – In the city of Beira, Sofala Province, a group of young mothers is leading awareness campaigns for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. They have different backgrounds, different aspirations and dreams, but they share a similar challenge: they are fighting to bring more and more pregnant women and mothers of children living with HIV to the prevention and treatment program.
Most of the women in the group found out they were HIV positive after prolonged illnesses or during ante-natal visits, which provides for the administration of HIV testing to all pregnant women under the provider-initiated testing and counseling program.
“I was tested when I was pregnant, during an antenatal care visit to the clinic. They were counseling all mothers to do the test. So I did it!” Isabel Domingos Alexo, 27, recalls.
The Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV programme, implemented by the Ministry of Health with technical and financial support from UNICEF and partners, refers every woman who tests positive to a follow-up programme.
The programme provides prophylaxis, psychological support and counseling on the drugs the woman should take during pregnancy and after childbirth, including for the child. Through these interventions they begin to understand that complying with the antiretroviral treatment is effective and important to their health and life.
“My four year old son is doing this treatment, and he is doing fine. It's a miracle that he survived the disease, because I did not think he would. If not for this treatment, this child would not be alive!” says Arina Castaneja, 37.
But not all women manage to go to all their appointments and comply with the prophylaxis or treatment. This is especially true for those who have no family support, as Natália Estêvão Chimoio, 26, explains.
“My husband did not believe the test results. He said he would not accompany me. As I was afraid of getting lost, I stayed at home and did not follow the treatment for about three years,” Natália confesses.
The lack of family support is often compounded by fear of discrimination, which leads many women to hide their HIV positive status and to neglect treatment.
“I used to feel bad because the neighbours discriminated against me. So I was always crying because of the people, the neighbours” Joana Manuel, aged 30, recalls with sadness.
In 2005, as a result of the awareness sessions at the Beira Central Hospital, this group of women not only adhered to the antiretroviral treatment programme but also engaged in an active search for other children who used to miss follow-up visits and did not observe care and treatment recommendations.
With the support from the organisation CUAMM “Médicos com África” (University College for Aspirant Doctors and Missionaries) – supported by UNICEF as part of the national malnutrition and pediatric antiretroviral treatment programme in Beira – the group started meeting every Friday. During the meetings they shared their experiences and offered psychological support to each other to face challenges related to the treatment and relationships with their relatives, partners and society. At these meetings they also analysed the results of their interventions and planned future activities.
Within a few years, the members of the group improved their health and self-esteem. Today they have established an association under the name of Kuplumussana – which means saving one another in the Sena language – currently under the leadership of Afua Assane, 26.
In addition to the sessions at the Beira Central Hospital, these women’s voices are also heard in the neighborhoods. This year, the group has begun giving lectures and conducting their active search activities in two additional health centers in Beira, managing to reach the poorest and disadvantaged communities.
“I'm very proud to be part of this association, because it is my life, my family. People who used to laugh at me are now amazed at my progress. I'll continue living my life, to show that we are capable, and that being HIV positive does not mean death. I'm alive, and I do everything I liking doing!” says Meque Rosa, 26.
Expansion of HIV positive mother support groups is an integral part of the PMTCT programme developed by the Ministry of Health since 2004, with support from UNICEF and partners. The aim is to provide psychosocial support to pregnant women and mothers living with HIV and AIDS, helping them to cope with the socio-cultural barriers, stigma and discrimination, and to follow antiretroviral treatment.