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Giving birth to a healthy baby while living with HIV in Malawi

© UNICEF Malawi/2008
Mothers receive counselling as part of the prevention mother-tocChild transmission of HIV programme at the UNICEF-supported Kasungu District Hospital in Malawi.

By Victor Chinyama

KASUNGU, Malawi, 15 October 2008 – Alice Chipeni looks forward to her young baby being tested for HIV. The thought is enough to fill many minds with dread, but for Ms. Chipeni it is one more step in a long journey that began when she was diagnosed with HIV herself several years ago.

Her baby boy was born under the auspices of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV programme at the UNICEF-supported Kasungu District Hospital, where his odds of contracting HIV were narrowed by one third. At 13 months, Ms. Chipeni’s baby is five months away from the HIV test that, if negative, will graduate him from the programme.

For Ms. Chipeni, that will be the fulfilment of her dream to have an HIV-free baby – a dream she nurtured when she became pregnant in 2007.

HIV status confirmed

Ms. Chipeni’s own HIV status was confirmed in 2004, after she had a persistent cough for several months. An X-ray finally revealed that she had tuberculosis, and she was immediately put on treatment. A relapse of the disease later prompted her nurse to suggest an HIV test.

“After the results were confirmed, I was put on antiretroviral treatment,” she said. “I was as thin as a stick but after some time, I began to regain my weight and my appetite was back.”

In 2007, Ms. Chipeni became pregnant. And because of UNICEF’s support, help was available.

Aid for mothers and children

Thanks to UNICEF-funded community mobilization efforts, the number of women accessing HIV testing in Malawi increased from 320 in 2002 to more than 289,000 by December 2007 – nearly half of all the women who became pregnant last year.

The number of HIV-positive pregnant women like Ms. Chipeni receiving antiretroviral treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission increased from just over 10,000 in 2006 to 19,000 in 2007.

Ms. Chipeni’s baby was given an antiretroviral drug and an antibiotic that reduces the incidence of opportunistic infections such as pneumonia. The mother also received iron supplements and an insecticide-treated bednet for preventing malaria. And through the World Food Programme, she got nutritional support in the form of maize, beans, and vegetable oil – all part of the effort to help mother and child survive and thrive.



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