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HIV positive mothers help reduce new infections in children

posted 27 Nov 2012, 04:18 by Mpelembe   [ updated 27 Nov 2012, 04:18 ]

Kenya is looking to drastically reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus by launching a network of 'Mentor Mothers' who will provide lifesaving information and support to HIV-positive pregnant women or new mothers around the country.

 NAIROBIKENYA (NOVEMBER 22, 2012) (REUTERS) -  Nine years ago, Spirah Kaari Mbae was told that she was HIV-positive.

Mbae was only 20-years-old at the time, and had just given birth to her second child. Despite the news, Mbae chose not to become despondent and instead focused her attention on "living positively".

She joined a support group for other infected mothers at the main health center in Dandora, a low-income Nairobi suburb, and began taking ARVs (anti-retrovirals). She would often have to hide the pills from her husband who had vehemently refused to accept her status, or get tested himself.

Mbae was so proactive and outspoken that when the Mothers2Mothers (M2M) NGO came calling in search of 'Mentor Mothers' - women who would encourage and instruct other HIV-positive mothers - she was the natural choice for team leader.

Mbae and the four other women that serve as Mentor Mothers at Dandora, say they take in about 29 new "clients" every month.

Kinnie Achieng Omondi and her one-year-old daughter Faith, see Mbae on a regular basis. During their sessions, Omondi has a chance to speak confidentially to Mbae about any problems she's facing or ask questions related to her status.

After their discussions, Mbae refers Omondi to the relevant department in the hospital.

"It motivates these mothers to accept their status because mentorship, there is a very big difference between mentoring and counselling, when you are mentoring these clients, you even share your own experience, so when you share your experience with the client, she feels that this is the right person to be with rather than the counsellor who will just tell you about how you should accept your status, and such things," Mbae said.

"Now, I am very happy, because I can see my child is healthy, so that makes me happy. There was a time I was afraid because I thought my child and I would die, I actually thought we were going to die," said Omondi.

Mothers2Mothers (M2M) is an NGO that works in seven sub-Saharan countries to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

One of their key strategies is the placement of Mentor Mothers at health centers - like Dandora - to give information and support to HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers.

M2M currently has 60 sites around the country and 120 Mentor Mothers in their program.

"This is the way to go, it's going very well, mothers are able to accept their status as early as possible and of course you know what happens when you accept your status, you are able to adhere to treatment and even to attend your clinic's appointment as scheduled," said Duncan Ngari, the regional manager of Mothers2Mothers.

World AIDS Day is observed around the world on December 1 every year.

UNAIDS reported recently that the sharpest declines in new HIV infections since 2001 were in the Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa - where new infections were down 25 percent in a decade mainly due to increased access to lifesaving drugs.

In order to improve even further on these gains, Kenya's Ministry of Health has launched theKenya Mentor Mother Program (KMMP) - which will see more women like Mbae - being employed in both public and privately owned health centers around the country.

"If we did nothing, we'll have about 40,000 children being infected with HIV every year, if we did nothing. But with our current interventions, we estimate that we are having about 13,000 new infections every year. For us to achieve elimination, we have to get to below 5,000 infections per year and that is our target by 2015," said Dr. Sirengo Martin, a program manager within Kenya's National AIDS/STD-Control Program (NASCOP).

Mbae plans to play a big part in reaching that goal. When she's not working long shifts at the Dandora Health Centre, then she's taking care of her children - who are HIV-negative - in a one-bedroom apartment the family shares.

Mbae gets a small allowance of about 8,500 Kenyan shillings (about 100 US dollars) for her work at the health center.

Her husband has now been tested and found to be in Stage 4 - or the final stage - of the AIDS disease, and yet Mbae says she's determined to keep helping as many women as she can.

"The way I feel, in myself, I feel that I have passion for the work, because HIV positive, the way I've seen, I thought I would die but after sometime, I've seen that HIV doesn't kill so even when I'm mentoring a client, it just comes automatically and even I don't remember, yes I will tell the client that I'm HIV positive but to me, it doesn't affect me in any way. I'm just living a normal life, that is a normal positive life," she said.

Scientific studies have shown that getting timely treatment to those with HIV can also cut the number of people who become newly infected with the virus.

According to UNAIDS, sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for 71 percent of people newly infected in 2011, underscoring the need to boost HIV prevention efforts in the region.

Of the 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths in 2011, 1.2 million were in sub-Saharan Africa.