Protecting the greatest gift

Preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A HIV positive mother is carrying her healthy child
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran

11 November 2019

“I was crying, what about my children?”

Veronica Marco Baraza, a mother of three at the time, is recapping the day she thought she would die. She was pregnant with her fourth child when her husband got sick. He was taken to the hospital where he tested positive for HIV. Shortly after, Veronica had her own positive test in front of her.

 

Veronica receiving HIV drugs
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Veronica Marco Bareza is receiving antriretrovial drugs that helps her body coping with the virus there is no treatment for.

 
As soon as the diagnosis was ready, she was given counselling and advised to start taking antiretroviral drugs, protecting the life growing inside her. But it was too late, the child was born HIV positive and died after just one year.

After my child died my counselor told me I could try again, and if I took my medicines from the start the baby would be healthy. That gave me hope.

Two HIV positive women walking
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Veronica Marco Bareza and Viviana Adil are both HIV positive and are raising awareness on HIV to prevent infections, tackle stigma and show that a good life with HIV is possible.

 
Yet, the prospect of healthy babies in the future was overshadowed by Veronica's in laws.  They gave her a hard time.

I remember a family member throwing a sponge in the toilet, just because I had used it and because I was HIV positive. They didn't know you couldn't get it from the sponge. I explained but they didn't listen.

Victoria felt depressed. Everyone was blaming her for the disease hitting the family, even though it was her husband who introduced the virus.

“I started going to mother-to-mother support groups where we discuss these things. I heard from others in the same situation and that was the turning point for me. Now, I'm not depressed and scared.”

 

Veronica and her children
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Veronica Marco Bareza with four of her children.

 
Veronica is now a mother of seven children, and after taking the antiretrovirals religiously all the children are HIV free and healthy. She is in a good place but knows what it feels like when the disease and all that comes with it is pressing one down. That is why she is now an active member of the mother-to-mother support groups and is raising awareness on HIV in Wau, South Sudan. 

“If I'm angry? No. I believe this is my fate and how would anger help me? I tell my story to inspire other women in the same situation and helping them move on with their lives and make healthy babies, just like I did.”
 

Veronica with her children
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Veronica Marco Bareza and three of her children on their way from the hospital in Wau.

In South Sudan, an estimated 2.5 per cent the adult population and 16,000 children under the age of 15 are HIV positive. With the right treatment and counselling, HIV positive mothers can prevent the virus from being passed down to their child during pregnancy and birth.

The UNICEF supported prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme for HIV in South Sudan is supported by the Global Fund