by Cynthia Kanyere
TESTIMONY – HIV infection is still little known in some parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Seropositive women ignore their serological status, and transmit HIV to their newborns who sometimes die before their 1st birthday. Thanks to appropriate care, Josephine, 38 and seropositive, has brought her two seronegative children to the world who are in good health today. Let’s discover her story.
An ignorance that kills
“I was married in 1997. During nine years of marriage, I had two miscarriages and my first four children died before their 1st birthday. I lived in Bunagana with my husband. I learnt that women were being cared for at the Rugari health centre (around 25 km from Bunagana). I took the risk to travel because I really wished to have a child in good health.
When I was told that I am seropositive, I felt crushed, horrible. I was told that it was HIV that was killing my children. I returned home to Bunagana. I didn’t say anything to my husband because I was so scared of his reaction. A few months later, I fell pregnant. I did not have the choice but to return to Rugari. The nurse told me that if I go to prenatal consultations (PNC) at the start of the pregnancy, we could save my child from HIV. I travelled each month to come to the PNC and take my antiretroviral medication here in Rugari. During this time, after learning that I was seropositive, my husband left me. In the third trimester of my pregnancy, I moved to Bunagana to come live here in Rugari and be close to the health centre.
My first child, born without HIV
It is thanks to the treatment I received that my child was born without HIV. I breastfed him exclusively for six months, after which I weaned him off. It was what I was advised to do. He has grown in good health. My husband returned after learning that our child was in good health. Two years after, my second child was born. He is also seronegative. Today, they are 10 and 8 years old. My husband never agreed to do the HIV test. He has unfortunately passed away.
I am grateful for everything that has been done for my children and me. The counselling helped me to accept myself; I receive the medication for free. I appear like any other healthy person. I have lost many children because I did not know about my serological status. But today, thanks to the right care, my two children are alive and in good health.”
Prenatal consultations for couples to detect HIV
Since 2004, in the territory of Rushuru, North-Kivu, the Rugari health centre started a programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV, with the support of UNICEF. A pregnant woman goes to prenatal consultations each month for the monitoring of her pregnancy, and receives the appropriate vaccines and medication that protect the child in her womb. Since 2011, the prenatal consultation approach for couples has been established in order to take better care of couples, especially in cases involving HIV.
“Pregnant women have understood the benefit of taking the HIV test from the first trimester of their pregnancy. At the start of this project, the men did not accompany their wives to prenatal consultations. But since we expected the father to be present in order to welcome the pregnant women to the PNC, the men accompany their wives and also agree to take the HIV test,” declared Séverine Masika, in charge of the MTCT Programme at the Rugari health centre.
Translated by Darren Ou Yong.