As mother to child HIV infections drop, Kenya shift to new gear

HIV positive parents Walter Odero and Evelyn Akoth with their child in Kanyasa Village, in Homa Bay County. Their three children are all tested negative for the virus [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]
Walter Odero lost his first wife in 2007 and married his second wife Evelyn Akoth in 2008; both are HIV positive but have three children – all negative.

They have refused to focus on who brought the disease or who did not but rather on bringing up children who are HIV negative.

Akoth, 29, came into the union with a child she had in a past relationship, and then came the bombshell in her first pregnancy with Odero, 48.

When she got pregnant, she started the routine antenatal clinic visits and tested positive for HIV. Akoth was immediately put on treatment and asked to adhere to treatment in order to give birth to uninfected children.

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Statistics show that about 6,200 infants are infected with HIV annually. This is however a drop from 13,000 in 2012 marking a 55 per cent drop.

“When she came back and informed me about her situation, I got so bitter and refused to go for testing until 2011 when circumstances forced me to,” recounts Odero.

After years of denial Odero got seriously ill and went for testing. The tests turned out positive and he was put on treatment just like his wife.

He says, “I had to accept the news because denial would not change anything but I always believe that had we gone for a test before marriage we would have avoided some of these problems.”

Achieng urges those planning to get married to get tested before doing so. One thing she is thankful for however is that all the children they have had as a couple are all HIV negative including the last born who is just approaching the age of one.

In fact, the last born was the among the 122 children who graduated last week in a function organized to celebrate children who have turned out negative despite being born of HIV positive mothers.

The event organized by World Vision’s Pala Area Development Programme was meant to celebrates the successes of Elimination of Mother To Child Transmission (EMTCT) in North Ward West Karachuonyo Division.

The graduation culminated from an entire process beginning with antenatal care visits to regular testing for the children to determine their HIV status.

“We have partnered with the Ministry of Health to offer psychosocial support and offer a platform for mothers to share their experiences with the community; we started monitoring them after their antenatal care visits and getting enrolled into the EMTCT programme,” says Sylvia Atayi, health project officer at World Vision’s Pala office.

The project involves aspects like advising mothers on nutrition, self-disclosure as well as advise on how to help ensure that the children are not infected despite their mothers’ living with HIV.

Shaban Ojuka, the ward public health officer says the programme integrates zero new infections and zero discrimination.

“We tell those who are positive that their status cannot prevent them from bearing healthy children but they must be subjected to strict follow-up. The mothers are encouraged to take up their medication religious and ensure that deliveries are done under skilled care.

The work is done through a network of caregivers and mother-to-mother support groups which Ojuka says has resulted in positive indicators.

“Because of limited resources we welcome partners to help us achieve our goal towards elimination of HIV in this county and this is where World Vision steps in,” says Ojuka.

Mothers and their children awarded during a ceremony to celebrate HIV negative children born of HIV positive mothers. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]
The National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) figures show that 85 per cent of pregnant mothers are on antiretroviral therapy which leaves 15 per cent still in need of medication. This put the lives of the unborn children at risk.

Kenya currently has a prevalence rate of 6.2 per cent for HIV and EMTCT is one of the ways through which the government wants to reduce the number of new infections.

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