NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 13 – Emily* was diagnosed with the HIV virus in 2001. She was seven months pregnant with her second child at the time and discovered her status during mandatory testing on a routine visit to the clinic.
But even armed with this information, Emily did not take advantage of the interventions that would prevent her from transmitting the virus to her unborn child.
When her husband Mike* fell ill in 2006 and moved from health care centre to health care centre trying to determine the cause of his ailments, she still did not divulge her status.
“I was literally on my death bed and she kept mum. I was in such bad shape that when they told me I have AIDS I was relieved because now that I knew the problem I could begin to get better,” he says.
Emily was pregnant with her third child at the time; seven months.
Her husband made sure she took the necessary precautions to prevent transmission of the virus to the child.
Their second born child wasn’t as lucky and tested positive for the HIV virus.
Now Emily, with Mike’s support, works with the Mothers2Mothers (M2M) non-profit organisation to keep others from repeating their mistake.
“Let’s be honest. How much time does a public health care provider have to spend with a mother who’s just been diagnosed HIV positive?” Florence Wangeci who’s been working as a nurse for the last two decades poses.
“There’s often a line of people waiting outside the door. There isn’t even time to wait for the shock to wear off before you start telling this mother that there are drugs that she can take to lessen the risk of transmission to her unborn child to almost zero.”
M2M’s solution is mentor mothers: HIV positive mothers who offer support to the newly diagnosed.
“They’ve been through it themselves. Sometimes knowing you’re not alone is everything. Seeing them live full lives, their children’s futures secured, lets you know that if you want to, you can too,” Milker Simba a Senior Programme Manager with M2M explains.
The mentor mothers are tasked with helping the expectant mothers, in situations similar to that of Emily, to break the news to their significant others, ensuring that they take their medication as prescribed and perhaps most importantly they offer emotional support.
“What killed people fast in the early days of AIDS I think was stress,” Wangeci says.
And so spousal support, Milker explains, is beneficial.
“You don’t want to start taking your medication in hiding. You also want them to get tested and studies show that infected persons are more likely to adhere to their prescription timetable in an environment of full disclosure.”