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At a glance: Haiti

Protecting mothers and newborns from HIV and AIDS in post-quake Haiti

Jeanne's story

© UNICEF/2010/Ramoneda
After a brief interruption following the earthquake in Haiti, 'Jeanne' was able to continue receiving antiretroviral treatment while she was pregnant with her daughter Marie, seen here as a newborn.

By Antonia Paradela

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 30 June 2010 – Jeanne (not her real name) looks lovingly at her baby daughter Marie and carefully covers her cot with a mosquito net. She is sitting in the living room of a relative’s home in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, in the heat of the afternoon. For Jeanne, the birth of Marie in May was an extraordinary event.

When the earthquake struck here in January, the 28-year-old was pregnant and receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment at a UNICEF-supported clinic. Jeanne had known for years that she was HIV-positive. She carefully planned her pregnancy with her husband, following medical advice so that there would be no risk of infecting him.

On 12 January, when she arrived home from work, she found that her house had collapsed and that her husband was dead. She was five months pregnant.

Preventing HIV transmission

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Jeanne was living in a tent camp with 20 other families and mourning the loss of her husband. With no job and uncertain about the future, she did not have access to the specialized medical care and drugs she needed.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0622/Noorani
'Jeanne' (right), who is living with HIV, was five months pregnant when the 12 January earthquake struck Haiti, detroying her home and killing her husband. Above, she talks to a worker from UNICEF, which helped to refer her to appropriate care.

“My main concern then was what would happen to my baby if I stopped taking the anti-retroviral medication,” she recalls. “I was anxious. I wanted that everything would be fine when my baby was born.”

UNICEF was soon able to re-start its support for services to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies; it was then that Jeanne resumed her ARV treatment. She had a caesarean when giving birth to Marie, and a paediatrician immediately gave the newborn prophylaxis treatment to decrease her chances of becoming HIV-positive.

“A baby who receives prophylaxis at birth and whose mother has received anti-retrovirals has only a 2 per cent chance of becoming HIV positive,” says Mireille Tribie, an HIV and AIDS specialist working for UNICEF in Port-au-Prince.

So far, tests show that Marie’s HIV status is negative. More tests are needed to determine her final status.

Hope for the future

Asked how she felt when Marie was born, Jeanne’s eyes fill with tears. Her mood fluctuates: She is happy to have Marie in her life, sad that the baby’s father is not there to share her joy. Now she wants a chance to rebuild her life to give her daughter a better future.

© UNICEF/2010/Ramoneda
Because Marie received prophylaxis treatment immediately after her birth in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, her chances of becoming HIV-positive are much reduced.

Haiti’s HIV prevalence rate remains among the highest in the Caribbean, although incidence levels had declined slightly before the earthquake. An estimated 6,800 children in the country are living with HIV.

UNICEF is working to ensure that HIV-positive Haitians keep receiving medical care and that those taking ARV drugs do not have to discontinue their treatment. The organization continues to support the Ministry of Health in expanding services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. And in collaboration with local NGOs, it is actively involved in prevention activities for adolescents.



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