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UNICEF supports efforts to help mothers keep children HIV-free in Uganda

‘Children and AIDS: Fifth Stocktaking Report’ – released on the eve of World AIDS Day 2010 – highlights progress made on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Here is a related story.

By Thomas Nybo

KASESE, Uganda, 1 December 2010 – Hariet Tumushme, 28, is pregnant with her fifth child. Four months ago, Ms. Tumushme learned that she was living with HIV and began to worry that she would pass the virus to her child. To try to keep her child free of HIV, she started taking anti-retroviral medication, or ARVs, which she receives free of charge at a small, roadside health clinic here in western Uganda.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Thomas Nybo reports on efforts to help Ugandan mothers prevent HIV transmission to their children.  Watch in RealPlayer


"I have started attending the antenatal clinic and I was told by health workers that there is a drug that they give to pregnant mothers so that the virus doesn't pass to the baby," she says. "I'm going to be sure that I continue attending the antenatal clinic, and I will deliver my baby in a hospital, where I am told there is a drug that they give to a child when giving birth so the virus does not grow in that baby."

Ms. Tumushme has four other children, all of whom are HIV-negative. Today, she works closely with Agnes Tibuhwa, a nursing officer who is part of a UNICEF-supported outreach team that visits small communities like Kasese. The patients are receiving a quality of care that was once only available at large hospitals far from their homes.

© UNICEF video
In Uganda, Hariet Tumushme (left) is pregnant with her fifth child four months after learning that she was living with HIV.

Counselling and education

"When we go for outreach, we provide most of the same services we provide at the hospital," says Ms. Tibuhwa. "We carry out counselling, testing, give health education. We provide ARVs. We also carry out support counselling to those who are already exposed to HIV."

The clinic in Kasese typically sees about 20 women per day, but sometimes there are as many as 50, advising them on how to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and providing life-saving medication. As part of this effort, the clinic is trying to reach husbands, who have shown a general reluctance to be tested for HIV.

© UNICEF video
Hariet Tumushme gets a medical advice at a clinic near Kasese, Uganda that provides life-saving medication, counselling and psychological support to help mothers protect their infants against HIV.

"We normally encourage our mothers to come with their husbands," says Ms. Tibuhwa. "When they come for antenatal care, we give them health education and we encourage them to come with their husbands. And those who can, who agree, they come and we test them as couples."

Transmission is preventable

The transmission of HIV from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding is entirely preventable. But for that prevention to happen, women must be reached as early as possible, before they give birth, as is happening here with Hariet Tumushme and other women in her community.

With about 1,000 babies still being born with HIV every day, women throughout the developing world must be given access to testing and preventive treatment.



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