Living life in abundance as a HIV positive mother
Ijuka Agnes Barongo, in Namayingo District, Eastern Uganda
Forty-one year old Aisha Nankya sits on the porch of her humble house breastfeeding her seven months old son in Buyinja sub-county, two hours’ drive east of Kampala.
Sharif is her bundle of joy, which is seen through the manner in which they bond, holding hands and having a mother-child conversation. He shrieks, smiles and gurgles in between his breastfeeding sessions.
Sharif is a healthy baby born negative to his HIV positive mother. This has been made possible through the intervention of eliminating mother to child transmission (EMTCT) of HIV through the Option B+ combination drugs.
According to the AIDS Indicator Survey 2011, Uganda has about 1.5 million pregnant women of which 105,000 are estimated to be HIV positive. From this number, 84% of pregnant women received anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to stop mother to child transmission of HIV, including the Option B+ treatment.
This intervention is a three drug combination anti-retroviral therapy meant to provide life-long treatment, which ensures that mothers deliver HIV negative babies and are able to breastfeed for up to two years to provide optimal nutrition and immunity against any diseases to them.
Being a beneficiary of this intervention has allowed Aisha to remain healthy and fend for her family of seven children.
After the death of her husband a few years ago, she discovered she was HIV positive, which explained her occasional illness. Thereafter, she began anti-retroviral treatment.
Aisha later met a new partner in the HIV positive club and had another two children. She supplements the household income to cater for her children by fetching water for community households. She saved enough money and bought a bicycle which now enables her to fetch many jerry cans of water daily.
To support mothers like Aisha, in collaboration with Ministry of Health under the leadership of John Snow Inc. Research and Training Institute, UNICEF Uganda is working as part of the USAID funded programme Strengthening Treatment and Access Response to HIV/AIDS in Eastern and Central Uganda (STAR-EC.
This collaboration is working to provide pregnant women with EMTCT services, which is being done through the mothers2mothers (m2m) ‘Mentor Mother’ model at 45 health facilities in nine districts that include Bugiri, Buyende, Iganga, Luuka, Kaliro, Kamuli, Mayuge, Namayingo and Namutumba.
“Our midwife and support staff at the health centre are privileged to obtain support from the m2m colleagues. This is because the mentor mother has disclosed her HIV status to the community, has previously received prevention of mother to child transmission services, and is offering support to family groups,” said Dr. Godfrey Kalege of Buyinja Health Centre IV.
“We have seen a drastic increase in the number of women who report to the health facility in the early stages of pregnancy to receive ante-natal services. Later they all return to deliver safely in our facility,” said Dr. Kalege.
“I am happy my children are healthy. This is the only wish a mother can have for her children,” says Aisha.
“Whenever I see my children laugh and play, whenever I welcome my older children back home from school, it brings me so much joy,” she says.
“This is why I have the conviction to share this experience to other pregnant women so that they too can experience a healthy life. Having HIV is not the end of the world, there is still hope to live a healthy life,” Aisha says with finality.
Using her experience as an HIV positive mother, Aisha now also serves as a counsellor to help more women like her.