World Health Day: CAFOD leads the way on HIV and healthy mums
Sunday 7 April is World Health Day. CAFOD is working to improve the health and wellbeing of mums with HIV, and working to prevent them passing on the virus to their children.
Mihret Mehari is a 32-year-old mum from Ethiopia. After she lost two babies, her husband left her - with two older children to care for as well as three siblings.
Then she then fell seriously ill, and discovered she was HIV positive.
Mihret is supported by CAFOD’s partner ADCS. She started antiretroviral drugs and joined the community based HIV support project.
ADCS helps her with money, education for her daughter, and training and counseling. She even met her new husband in one of the training groups.
Mihret was OK until she learned she was pregnant again. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing another baby. But a nurse explained that with the right treatment, she could avoid passing the HIV virus to her child. Mihret went on to have a healthy baby girl.
“I had to take my child for a check-up when she was one and half,” says Mihret. “That was the longest one and half years of my life. I was very happy and relieved when I realised my baby is HIV free.”
Mihret is now involved in a monthly coffee ceremony which provides information and a chance for people living with HIV to share experiences. ADCS are also helping her start a small business.
With the right knowledge, support and funding, women like Mihret can have healthy children and care for them, just as all women who want to should be able to.
Getting the balance right
It’s vital to get the balance right. We’re passionate that any initiatives to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child also ensure that the mum’s health is treated as every bit as important as the child’s.
Programmes to improve the health of mums and babies have to treat each case as individual. For example, some programmes prescribe lifelong medication for HIV positive mums, which wouldn’t be prescribed if they weren’t pregnant or breastfeeding. This can sometimes be the best option, but not always. There are long term risks of the drugs - some women may develop resistance – as well as issues of stigma and tensions within families or communities if pregnant women are seen as singled out for treatment. We want women’s choices and needs to be taken into account when developing programmes.
There are already huge challenges in linking mothers to healthcare services in poor countries, and lifelong treatment can add an extra burden. Community based organisations, including faith based groups, are often best placed to help people access treatment and support them to take the drugs as necessary and deal with any side effects,.
As part of the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and local Communities (JLI), we’re working to develop the potential of local faith communities to reach people with HIV in poor countries. The JLI was formed by a wide range of development organisations including CAFOD, UN agencies, academic institutions and religious bodies. Recent research focuses on ‘HIV and maternal health’, an area where faith based organisations such as CAFOD have an important role to play.
CAFOD is working to achieve the aims of the Global plan to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015 and to keep their mothers alive. We’ve made huge progress, but there’s so much more to do.
This World Health Day we call for the focus to remain firmly on children AND their mothers. We’ll continue to work with local community and faith groups, to make sure HIV positive women and mothers are heard.