The waiting, the frustrations and the 18-month waling of joy

Counselling HIV positive mothers-to-be

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A lady is hugging her child
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
11 November 2019

Some are getting up from their chair wailing so loud that people think I'm hurting her. But this is the sound of happiness.

– Hellen Piol, HIV Counsellor in Wau
A HIV counselor with two HIV positive mothers
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Hellen Piol is counselling pregnant women and is there when women learn their HIV status.


There are some really tough days at work for Hellen Piol. The toughest days are when women learn they are HIV positive, but Hellen is there with them. 

“I teach them how to read the result before we do the test. If I am the one to give the news, they might not believe me and discard the results. By giving them the knowledge before we start, they know what they see before them is the truth,” Hellen explains.

“Some women cry when they see the test is positive, others go silent.”

A rapid HIV test
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
A HIV rapid test gives you the answer within 15 minutes


The next step is finding ways to live with the news and the disease. Medication is the practical part and it is free.  Dealing with the stigma is the difficult part. Many people just diagnosed with HIV, believe that their lives are over, which often causes depressions. One of Hellen's key messages when counselling HIV positive women is that you can live a good life with HIV and that includes continuing building your family.

With today's medication and counselling, HIV positive mothers can give birth to health babies. Yet, the treatment is not 100 per cent. Therefore, the child is tested several times after birth, and the final and concluding test is at 18 months.

Vivian is waiting for the results of a HIV test
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Viviana Adel waiting for test results with the indicator aid in front of her, telling her what a positive and a negative test looks like.

You could hear us from the other side of the hospital. We were laughing and crying out of relief when the 18-month test for my son was negative.

– Viviana Adel, HIV Positive mother
Counselling session, HIV positive mothers
UNICEF South Sudan/Gonzalez Farran
Hellen Piol is guiding HIV positive mothers on how to read the results of the HIV rapid tests. Rapid tests are used during the child's first 1.5 years, but the final test is sent to a lab.

Over 300 mothers have been sitting in Hellen's office since she started in 2013, how many hours in total she can't tell. During pregnancy, birth and follow-ups, a special bond is formed between Hellen and the women she is helping and she shares the joy when the child is testing negative. That feeling makes up for all the difficult days at work.

I know, I saved the life of a human being.

– Hellen Piol

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.