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Mother-Baby Pack launched to help prevent HIV transmission in Zambia

One mother's story shows impact of prevention services

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0129/Nesbitt
Rodah Banda holds her son Joseph, 2, while speaking at the national launch of the Mother-Baby Pack in the city of Kabwe, located in Zambia's Central Province.

By Precious Mumbi-Habeenzu

LUSAKA, Zambia, 3 February 2011 – Two years ago, Rodah Banda had to make the biggest decision in her life – whether to terminate her pregnancy or leave her husband, who threatened to end their marriage if she enrolled in a programme designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Today, Ms. Banda is the proud mother of Joseph Banda, a healthy two-year-old boy whose HIV status is negative. Joseph was seen running up and down, sucking on a red lollipop, smiling and talking during the recent launch of the UNICEF ‘Mother-Baby Pack’ in Kabwe, the capital of Zambia’s Central Province.

The Mother-Baby Pack is a take-home box of medicines designed for women and children who have limited access to HIV prevention and treatment. It contains anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines and antibiotics required to protect the health of one mother and child. The medicines are pre-measured and packaged to make it easy for women to administer them correctly.

Ms. Banda, 36, told her moving story to an audience gathered for the launch of the pack, an innovative approach to prevention of mother-to-child transmission, or PMTCT.

Pregnant and living with HIV

“I discovered that I was HIV-positive during a visit to a health centre after coming down with an illness that was so critical that I had visual problems,” she said. “I was devastated …but the nurse at the health centre counselled me on how I could live a healthy life and prolong my life by participating in medical services available for HIV-positive people.”

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0052/Nesbitt
A Zambian health worker examines the contents of a Mother-Baby Pack during a training workshop in the town of Chongwe.

The nurse told Ms. Banda that she needed to bring her husband to the health centre so that he could also undergo counselling and HIV testing. But her husband, a local pastor, refused to follow the medical advice, fearing public exposure of his HIV-positive status. He even threatened to leave his wife if she continued to go to the clinic, and she stopped going.

“While all this was happening in early 2008, I discovered that I was pregnant,” recalled Ms. Banda. “I was uncertain about the future of my unborn baby due to my HIV status and contemplated whether to terminate my pregnancy or visit the health centre for medical intervention – with the risk of losing my marriage.”

Role model for women

In the end, Ms. Banda opted to seek medical care for the sake of her baby. She was immediately enrolled into the PMTCT programme. Her husband died when she was nine months pregnant.

Baby Joseph was tested for HIV at the age of six weeks. The result came back negative, as did follow-up tests, the last one at 18 months.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0128/Nesbitt
UNICEF Representative in Zambia Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa speaks at the national launch of the Mother-Baby Pack.

“PMTCT services gave a new meaning to my life,” said Ms. Banda. “I am a happy woman, despite facing the daily struggles of unemployment and lack of food in my household.”

Indeed, Ms. Banda has been a role model for many in her local community, where women are afraid to disclose their HIV status and make use of PMTCT services. She continues to encourage pregnant women living with HIV to seek out these services.

Increased access

The Mother-Baby Pack is a component of the PMTCT programme in Zambia. The Ministry of Health – together with UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, UNITAID and the JSI/Deliver Project – launched the pack last week.

The Provincial Minister of Central Province, Ackimson Banda, officiated at the launch event. Also on hand were UNICEF Representative in Zambia Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa and the UNICEF Chief of HIV/AIDS Jimmy Kolker.

The Mother-Baby Pack will improve access to more efficacious ARV prophylactic regimens and will streamline the procurement and supply of these lifesaving PMTCT medicines.



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