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Mentors play vital role in preventing HIV transmission from mother to child

By Suzanne Beukes

TEYATEYANENG, Lesotho, 30 November 2011—The harsh, icy rain is no deterrent for a motivated Manady Rapopo when it comes to checking in on expectant mother Puleng Hae in the small town of Teyateyaneng in Lesotho.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Suzanne Beukes reports on a mentoring programme that is helping prevent the spread of HIV in Lesotho.  Watch in RealPlayer


Puleng, 25, is seven months pregnant and she and her husband, Taelo, look forward to nothing more than to hold their baby in their arms. But a few months ago, the good news that Puleng was going to have a baby was marred by the test results indicating that she was also HIV positive. 

“It was hard at first to accept my status,” she said. “But they (the nurses) told me that the best thing I could do was to tell my husband and advise him to undergo an HIV test and on what the medication to take and that I must also go to the clinic if I have a problem.”

It was then that she joined a Mothers2Mothers programme. This is a peer support programme, made up of mentors like Manady Rapopo who have been though the programme themselves and who offer support to HIV positive mothers through guidance and assistance on how to stop the transmission of HIV to their babies.

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011/Marinovich
Malefu Kobisi poses with her daughter Qenehelo in Teyateyaneng, Lesotho. Although infected with HIV, Malefu was, with the help of a UNICEF-supported programme, able to ensure that the virus was not passed to her daughter.

‘It was simple to understand’

Puleng says that by being able to talk about her problems, challenges and fears with her mentor allowed her to focus on doing what she can to prevent her child from contracting HIV. “It was simple to understand, “she said, “that being HIV positive was not a big problem as I thought it was and that the baby would be normal and that I can live a normal life.”

Puleng and her supportive husband Taelo are doing everything they can to ensure that their baby is born HIV free. Puleng has been on antiretroviral treatment throughout her pregnancy and when the baby is born, will continue.

This is what drives Manandy, who herself is a proud mother of an HIV negative four-year-old baby girl. “Other women thought that HIV is killing so I want to be an example of a free HIV negative baby,” she explained.

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011/Marinovich
A baby waits with its mother at a clinic in Teyateyaneng, Lesotho. With UNICEF's support the country is battling the HIV epidemic by trying to prevent transmission from mother-to-child.

Lesotho has the third highest HIV prevalence rate in the world with one in four people infected with the disease. The World Health Organisation says that globally the majority of new HIV infections among children occur through mother-to-child transmission. But there is hope because by implementing effective interventions through pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding, the transmission rate can fall to below five per cent.

Playing a vital role

This is where Mothers2Mothers programme mentors like Manandy play a vital role, offering guidance and assistance to HIV positive pregnant mothers so that they maintain their antiretorviral treatment during the pregnancy and after the child is born.

They promote the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding to ensure a baby gets all the nutrition he or she needs.  According to recommendations by the World Health Organisation exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continuing breastfeeding along with complementary feeding in conjunction with antiretroviral therapy or prophylaxis is the best strategy to ensure HIV prevention among children/infants of HIV-positive mothers. 

UN Aids reports that globally mother-to-child transmission of HIV has decreased in many communities, countries and regions of the world. Achieving an HIV free generation, however will require overcoming many obstacles one of which is access to healthcare services.

© UNICEF Lesotho/2011/Marinovich
A pregnant woman receives a checkup in Teyateyaneng, Lesotho. The country has the third highest prevalence of HIV in the world and the battle to contain it rests on trying to stop transmission from mother to child.

The stigma of HIV

Discrimination is another challenge women face in Lesotho and it is here where mentors play an important role in helping mothers cope with the stigma of HIV. Qenehelo Nkesana, 30, knows all about the stigma of HIV.

“Here there are rumours that if you are HIV positive and you are going to make a baby, he or she is going to be HIV positive too,” she said.

She and her husband, Lelohonolo, are both HIV positive. Assistance from her Mothers2mothers mentor through counselling and by maintaining their antiretroviral treatment means the couple now have a bouncing baby daughter, Malelohonolo who is HIV negative. Qenehelo says the Mothers2Mothers programme helped her a lot.

These mothers wish only that their children can grow up healthy, happy and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.



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