Men supporting their partners to reduce Mother-to-Child Transmission in Zambia
The mentor mothers programme
When Mr. and Mrs. Mwale went for their second child’s antenatal booking, they were welcomed by a team of trained Health Care Professionals called mentor mothers. Ngungu Health facility in Kabwe District of Zambia’s Central Province has seven trained mentor mothers who, among other roles, offer support to adolescent girls and young mothers living with HIV, aged between 10-24 years, from pregnancy until the child is 2 years old.
The mentor mothers is a programme supported by UNICEF in Chipata District Eastern Province Zambia which aims at providing peer support to pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV. The initiative provides a safe space for moms to make friends and gain support, for themselves and their HIV exposed babies
“My wife and I arrived at Ngungu health facility in Kabwe District for antenatal booking of our second child. We received lessons and counselling on HIV. The information was detailed and explained in a way I have never heard people talk about HIV,” said Mr. Mwale. “After the informative session, we then went to the screening room to get registered. While in that room, the health workers told us that my wife and I should consider taking HIV tests because it was important for our own health and that of our unborn child. We agreed and had our blood samples taken for testing.”
Knowing the HIV status of expecting parents is crucial in Zambia, where 8 in every 100 women attending antenatal care are diagnosed with HIV. When results are positive, early initiation on HIV treatment is important as it can prevent mother to child transmission of HIV and keeps the parents healthy, setting up a better start in life for their child. In contrast, without treatment, a child with HIV can hardly survive to their second birthday.
“A few minutes after the blood samples were taken for testing, the health worker shared our results. Results came out negative for me, while my wife was found HIV positive. I could see my wife’s mood change yet having received the counsel earlier I knew it was my responsibility to be supportive and encourage her especially for our unborn child's sake,” Mr. Mwale said.
“I did not expect that I would be found HIV positive. My husband was and has been incredibly supportive. After the results were disclosed, he asked what the next step was, and the mentor mother available explained that we needed to go to the ART (antiretroviral treatment) clinic for guidance and treatment,” Mrs. Mwale.
It was actually the mentor mother who accompanied the couple to the ART clinic and introduced them to one of the counsellors who further advised Mrs. Mwale to start ARV and put Mr Mwale on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is a combination of ARV medicine given to HIV negative persons who are at great risk of contracting HIV (such as people whose sexual partners are living with HIV) to prevent them from getting the virus. PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV when taken as prescribed and reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99 per cent.
After giving the medicines to the couple, the mentor mother asked them if they wanted to be registered in the programme to continue getting support throughout the process.
Since they were enrolled in the programme, Jacqueline has been paying home visits regularly and reminding them about appointments. “Our baby is now 3 weeks old and extremely healthy. I am glad to have agreed to be part of this amazing programme and grateful for the support I have received from my husband who has always reminded me to take my medication on time,” said Mrs. Mwale.
*Mr. and Mrs. Mwale’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.
With support from Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), through a UN joint programme termed 2gether 4SRHR, UNICEF and Ministry of Health have been working with mothers2mothers to provide support to pregnant and breastfeeding adolescent girls and young women to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV.