In Ethiopia, more HIV-positive mothers deliver babies free of the virus

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By Indrias Getachew
Adanech* rushed to the Saris Health Centre in Addis Ababa when her labour pains started.

Like every mother in the world, she hoped to deliver a healthy baby. But Adanech is HIV positive, and without appropriate care, she could pass on the virus to her baby.
“I want my child to be free [of HIV],” said she said. “I don’t want my child to share my fate. That’s what I wish for.”

Because of an effective mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme at the health centre, supported by UNICEF and its partners, Adanech has an excellent chance of having her wish come true.
Supporting mothers living with HIV

Rahel Wondafrash, the nurse in the delivery room, handed Adanech a dose of prophylactic medicine. This is part of a regimen of medicines for mothers and babies to help prevent HIV transmission.

Adanech’s baby will remain on medication while being breastfed until Adanech is advised to stop administering it. These interventions, all free of charge, should ensure her baby does not contract HIV from her.

In Ethiopia only 24 per cent of pregnant women who are eligible for HIV services are currently receiving them. Adanech is one of the lucky ones.

In addition to testing for HIV during antenatal check-ups and providing prophylaxis, the health centre also has a ‘mother-to-mother support group’ that provides counselling services for mothers discovering their status. The group also helps guide them through their pregnancy, delivery and follow-up to ensure the best outcome for both mother and child.

Making sure that these women deliver at a health facility is an important part of the group’s activities. Less than 10 per cent of Ethiopian women give birth in a health facility.

Learning to cope with the disease

Being told that she was HIV-positive was that last thing Fikirte*, a 23-year-old going through her first pregnancy, expected when she went to the health centre for her first antenatal check-up.

“I came for a routine pregnancy check-up, then following the advice that I received, I got tested for HIV,” she said. “I was told that I was positive. When I was informed I got very upset.”

The mother-to-mother support group helped her cope.

“When she comes to our room, there are other mothers that have gone through the same thing,” said Emebet Tamrat, a mentor mother with the support group.

“Now I have received a lot of counselling,” said Fikirte. “I have seen people younger than me who are HIV-positive, children who are taking their medication and able to live their lives. I saw that they are even going to school, and that convinced me, so I have now started taking medication.”
‘Free from HIV’

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Ethiopia in the development and implementation of the Accelerated Prevention of Mother-to-child Transmission Site Expansion Plan in 2012 as well as in drafting the Plan for Elimination of Mother To Child Transmission of HIV and Congenital Syphilis.

UNICEF and partners are also supporting the training of 2,000 nurses and midwives across the country on emergency obstetric and newborn care integrated with PMTCT.
Lemlem*, another HIV-positive mother, arrived to the Saris Health Centre with her 18-month-old son for his final HIV test. Lemlem gave birth at the centre after going through the PMTCT programme. When the test results came in, Lemlem was ecstatic. After 20 months of anticipation, Lemlem received confirmation that her son does not have the disease.

“What I want is to work and raise my child, educate him and for him to become a doctor who will take care of people like me with respect – for him to be of service to his country and to support me,” said Lemlem. “His being free from HIV has given my life meaning.”

*Names of mothers going through the PMTCT programme have been changed to protect their privacy. (UNICEF)

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