Everyday more than 400 babies are infected with HIV - 75% of them are born in sub-Saharan Africa, but one charity is out to change this
Words by Emma Richards
Florence found out she was HIV positive when she became pregnant with her first child. After her husband died from the disease, she lost all hope of living. But one charity re-ignited her hope, and made her realise she could keep on living.
‘I came to the clinic with my husband. Both of us were tested and the results were positive,” she says. “My husband died later that year and I’ve never felt pain like it in my life. All I could see next for me was death.’
Mother-to-child HIV transmission is almost entirely preventable because effective and inexpensive medical interventions are available that can keep mothers and babies healthy. But thousands of mothers and babies do not have access to such life saving treatments. Without them up to 40% of infants born to HIV-positive mothers will contract the virus. With treatment, that number can be reduced to 2%.
Florence was helped by mothers2mothers, who are employing a novel approach to eliminating HIV, by training HIV-positive mothers to become ‘Mentor Mothers’ – front line healthcare workers, in understaffed health centres and communities around sub-Saharan Africa.
These Mentor Mothers, provide essential health education and support to those in need within their local communities. They also provide employment and financial stability to the HIV-positive women who take on the role. And their methods work – they have helped 1.5 million HIV positive women in total, and have virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV among their clients.
‘The Mentor Mothers made me believe that I could live,’ said Florence. ‘I began to accept my status, took my medication each day, and kept coming to the support groups. I now have two HIV-negative children.’
There are now mothers2mothers organisations in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia, all of which are making tremendous progress – in 2015, mothers2mothers achieved an average transmission rate of 2.1% in their clients.
Their methods clearly work, but sadly many women in sub-Saharan African remain uneducated about and vulnerable to HIV infection.
Rachael did not manage to visit an antenatal clinic until she was six months pregnant. By that time, it was too late to prevent her child from contracting HIV.
‘I couldn’t believe it. I looked at my baby girl and cried, and cried. But then my mentor mother comforted me and told me about HIV-positive children on treatment, and how healthy and beautiful they are.’
As if contracting HIV is not bad enough, many women also have to cope with the stigma attached to an HIV diagnosis. Pamela’s husband became violent when she revealed her HIV-positive status
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‘He told me, “I am not the one who is pregnant, you are. If it’s too hard for you, then have an abortion.”‘ Initially, Pamela refused care for months unable to accept her status but then eventually accepted it and got her husband to accept his status too. She says ‘Now I am empowered, and I will empower other women.’
To see more about the great work being done, watch the video below.