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Executive Director Anthony Lake helps roll out UNICEF's Mother-Baby Pack in Kenya

'Maisha Zone' initiative aims to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2261/Nesbitt
A nurse obtains a blood sample from a pregnant woman to test her for HIV at the antenatal clinic at Kisumu East District Hospital, located in Kenya's Nyanza Province.

NEW YORK, USA, 29 October 2010 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake arrived in Kenya this morning to help launch a new campaign along with the Kenyan Government and its partners – namely, the Maisha Zone initiative to create a zone free of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in two provinces.

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“‘Maisha’ means ‘life’ in Kiswahili, and I can think of no better way to describe a programme with the potential to save so many lives,” said Mr. Lake. He went on to commend the government for its commitment to expanding and strengthening the quality of services available to mothers living with HIV, and their babies.

“The Maisha initiative is a significant step forward towards our common goal of virtually eliminating mother-to-child transmission in Kenya,” added Mr. Lake. This ambitious initiative is being rolled out in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces

The launch event also included remarks by representatives of the Kenyan Government and the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, among others. One of the local speakers was Jacklin Akinyi Odongo, a single mother living with HIV who works with the ‘mothers2mothers’ peer-support programme in Kisumu.

Peer support for mothers

Ms. Odongo recalled that when she found out she was pregnant and HIV-positive, she went home and cried. Then she told her husband, who immediately abandoned her. She turned to a health clinic in Kisumu for help, and the staff suggested she join a support group.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-2271/Nesbitt
Jacklin Akinyi Odongo, a site copordinator for the 'mothers2mothers' peer-support group, provides HIV counselling at Nyanza General Provincial Hospital in Kisumu City, capital of Nyanza Province, Kenya.

“I met my fellow mothers who were pregnant and the ones who were already with babies,” explained Ms. Odongo. “Through their support, I was strengthened…. I said, ‘If all these women could live with HIV and if all these women – or most of them – their babies were HIV-negative, then why not me?’”

Ms. Odongo followed the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) guidelines carefully and took her anti-retroviral medications regularly. She later gave birth to a baby girl.

“The last test was done last month, September, and she’s turned out to be HIV negative,” Ms. Odongo said proudly, referring to her infant daughter.

UNICEF’s Mother-Baby Pack

An estimated 1.4 million people are living with HIV in Kenya today, including thousands of pregnant women and children. The rate of transmission from mother to child is between 25 and 35 per cent, without interventions – meaning that 22,000 babies are born with HIV every year.

While the necessary PMTCT drugs and antibiotics are available, it is still difficult for women who live far from health clinics to get the medications they need, when they need them. To address this issue, the Maisha Zone initiative is distributing UNICEF’s innovative Mother-Baby Pack.

The pack includes all the necessary medications to protect the health of both mother and child during pregnancy, labour and delivery, and for six weeks after delivery. Because it’s necessary to take the right drug at each stage, the medications are colour-coded for ease and simplicity. The colourful box also comes with an unmarked fabric bag, to ensure discretion for women who fear the stigma sometimes associated with HIV.

Counselling women and their families

For her part, Ms. Odongo speaks openly about her status. By telling people, she hopes to encourage others to do the same and help reduce their feelings of shame. Today, as a site coordinator for mothers2mothers, she counsels women to be tested for HIV and disclose their status to loved ones.

Now that the Mother-Baby Pack has arrived in Kenya, Ms. Odongo and other mentor mothers like her will be trained in how to distribute them. She will show pregnant women how to use the pack and advise families on how to give their babies a better chance of being born HIV-negative and healthy.

“I feel very satisfied when a mother – or a mother and a father – come to me after testing their baby, and they’re very much happy that their baby is HIV-negative,” said Ms. Odongo. “Then I feel that my counsels are reaching out there, not only to the mothers, but everywhere, in the community and the world at large.”




25 October 2010: UNICEF Radio speaks with Jacklin Akinyi Odongo, a 'mothers2mothers' site coordinator who counsels women in Kisumu, Kenya about preventing HIV transmission.
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