When you’re pregnant and have HIV

NAIROBI: When Ann Ngure discovered she was pregnant with her second child in 2013 she was ecstatic.

Her first son had already enrolled in nursery school and she was sure it was time to add another member to the family.

Being a second-time mum, Ann did not think it necessary to attend ante-natal clinic and only did so following her husband’s insistence.

“I was six-months pregnant when I finally went to the clinic and it was during the routine tests that I discovered I was HIV positive. I broke down and wept. I couldn’t believe that my husband had done this to me. I felt like dying right there,” she says.

After she had calmed down, Ann remembers the nurse telling her to join the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) Programme but she was in no state of mind to listen.

“I wanted nothing to do with medicine, as far as I was concerned I was already dying. I just wanted it to happen quickly. I was inconsolable. Thinking about my innocent child, unable to reconcile that my baby could possibly be infected with this awful disease,” she says tears welling up in her eyes as she relieves the events.

Eventually, her desire to give her child a fighting chance got through to her and she agreed to join the PMTCT programme run by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).

The programme is tailor-made to cater for expectant women living with HIV and is part of initiatives launched by KRCS, which is the current principal recipient of the Round 10 Global Fund grant meant to finance the fight against HIV and Aids in Kenya.

Emily Muga, KRCS Programme Advisor for the Global Fund project says through this grant, 27 counties with the highest HIV prevalence (70 per cent) have been beneficiaries of PMTCT.

Emily Muga, KRCS Programme Advisor for the Global Fund project

Some of these counties are Nairobi, Homabay, Machakos, Turkana, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kajiado.

Once mothers like Ann get into the programme they have immediate access to anti-retroviral drugs, which work by reducing the HIV virus concentration in the mother’s blood as well as the child’s.

Because HIV can be passed by a mother to her unborn child during late pregnancy, delivery or breast milk, mothers are asked to deliver at a health facility where skilled personnel will ensure there is no exchange of fluid between the mother and child.

This is what happened with Ann, who delivered her baby boy three months after joining the programme.

Immediately after birth, early treatment diagnosis of children is done and an anti-retroviral syrup administered. The child continues with a daily dose of this drug while visiting the hospital for review and testing.

HIV testing is done on the baby three times during this period, with a critical final test at 18 months that determines whether or not the child will have HIV for life.

“The days I take him for testing are very tense,” Ann says.

“I am too scared to read the results myself so I ask the clinician to read them out if they are good or keep quite if they are bad. So far, so good and I remain optimistic that the last test to be done at 18 months will also be negative”.

According to the Kenya AIDS Response Report of 2014, 76 per cent of expectant women living with HIV have been reached. The 2014 UNAIDS Global Plan Progress Report also indicates that the transmission rate from mother to child went down to 16 per cent in 2013 from 26 per cent in 2009.

Even though Aids is a terminal disease with no known cure, joining a PMTCT programme, like Ann did, can be a game changer bringing with it renewed hope for any expectant mother.

Today, the once inconsolable ‘victim’ is now a ‘mentor mother’ whose role is to counsel and encourage other HIV positive mothers when they find out their status.