HIV-positive Mothers Provide Advice and Encourage Pregnant Women to Access HIV services.
Kenyan Minister for Public Health and Sanitation Beth Mugo launched a national campaign to stop new HIV infections among children by 2015 and to keep their mothers alive. The new initiative, announced in November 2012, is part of a commitment made by Kenya at the 2011 United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York. It marks an important milestone in the national AIDS programme in Kenya.
Naomi Joy is a 34-year-old single mother of a six-month-old baby. As a counsellor who works with commercial sex workers, she knows a lot about HIV/AIDs. She never thought she would be among the people living with the disease. She is struggling to disclose her status to her immediate family members. Read more about her story.
"The disease HIV/AIDS was not news or unfamiliar to me. As a professional counselor I worked with a civil society organization in Mombasa for two years that supported HIV positive sex workers and promoted positive living. During my interaction with this group I was able to enhance my understanding on the disease as well as sex trade, I learned a lot from these ladies. Doing counseling and mentoring in this organization was been a joy for me. It really changed my perspective about the disease especially because, as did many Kenyans, I had very terrifying pictures of HIV/AIDs due to the way it was presented to us when it first appeared in our country.
It was unbelievable at first when I learned that many of those pretty girls were HIV positive and that they were on lifelong HIV treatments (antiretroviral drugs). I became aware of how far the study and treatment of HIV/AIDS had progressed. Even after working with the ladies and knowing a few things that I didn’t know about the disease, it never crossed my mind that I also could be infected.” I mean me!! How!! Such a disease infects other people but not me, a counselor who has been educating people.
In 2011 I became pregnant. I went to Westland Health centre for my antenatal care. I was five months pregnant , I didn’t think twice when all newcomers had to do HIV testing. I was called in when my turn came and I saw the HIV result for myself. I had done the test several times before, so I thought I was safe. When I saw two lines on the testing kit my heart almost skipped a beat. I was so scared I did not know what to do. Thank God there were people there ready to help me. Regina, a mentor mother, and a nurse who worked at the facility were present during this trying moment. They encouraged me as they counseled and mentored me. They told me that it’s really not the end of life.
Regina took me to another room and she introduced herself then she told me her story. I couldn’t believe it at first but it was so encouraging to be counseled by a woman like me, who understood exactly what I was going through. As she spoke to me so many questions were going through my mind and when she gave me a chance to ask her questions she assured me that all will be well. I felt loved, comforted and, deep within me, I knew if this wonderful lady has made it this far, I too would make it.
She emphasized the importance of adhering to the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) intervention. She later took my phone number and that of a relative; this, she said, was to support me in the PMTCT process. She then informed me that there was support group that meets twice a month right at the health centre. She even told me to call or text her if I had any questions, as I left the facility, even though I was still in shock. I held on to every word Regina told me and I replayed her story again and again in my mind.
I really cried when I got home. I felt so stupid to have been infected. I blamed my husband for all the uncertainties. He was lucky he was away out of town. He would have known who I really am, all anger, hate, heartache and pain. I would have unleashed words and blows to him. I kept blaming myself and wondering how in God’s name I got here. Then I thought of my baby and many questions about his wellbeing kept popping up in my mind until I went for the first support group.
I was overwhelmed by the stories of all wonderful women I met, it was so encouraging to hear and see that so many had been through what I was experiencing, and they had made it so far. I was most encouraged by the beautiful healthy babies I saw, they were HIV negative, thanks to available medicines, encouragement from support mothers and following the given instructions. I left that day so strong, happy and at peace.
From that day I never missed any of my HIV medicine, support group meetings, and following PMTCT advice. This has seen my child grow healthy with an HIV negative status. Although I am still breastfeeding him, I am very careful with my health and the baby's because I wouldn’t want to infect him later. In the support group I met five wonderful ladies that have become such great friends. We exchanged phone numbers, visited each other’s home and became such close buddies, until we all got our healthy HIV negative babies. Only one of us is still pregnant and we have seen her become so strong and encouraged.
Support mothers walked this walk ahead of us and they are tirelessly ready to help us, they answer our questions, and escort us to the doctor in case of any medical problems. I am looking forward to use my experience to support other mothers too; I want to participate in addressing stigma and supporting disclosure in the community. I am also looking forward to start a business and farming project to enable me to have a source of income.
I pray and desire that every woman who discovers her HIV status as I did would find wonderful support mothers as I did and become part of a wonderful support that aims at having a generation free from HIV infected babies and healthy mothers."