By ‘Dotun Akintomide
In Nigeria, about 4.4 per cent of women attending antenatal clinics are infected with HIV and according to UNAIDS latest estimated figure, 240,000 children are currently living with HIV/AIDS in Africa’s most populous nation.
In spite of the increasing number of children who are daily infected with the virus, through mother-to-child-transmission, less than 1% of pregnant mothers have access to counselling and testing services for HIV in the country, rapidly increasing the number of newborns with the virus.
Rita Momoh who in 2012 qualified as a midwife, having worked for a number of years as a nurse before joining the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) MamaCare team, a philanthropic organization which has earned global reputation for its health advocacy among women, children, and adolescents advancing equal rights for the girl-child in Africa.
Sharing her experience on the agony that many HIV-positive parents suffer to have children, Rita recounted the ordeals of one expectant mother who registered for Mamacare Antenatal Care (ANC) classes at Lugbe, Abuja, when her pregnancy was five-month old.
According to her, both her and the father of the child were HIV positive. Rita counselled the mother on four separate occasions, in a centre connected to a primary healthcare clinic, and ensured that appropriate medication was available for the baby. Medication was distributed to the nurses and Rita herself kept an appropriate supply at hand.
“HIV-positive parents in Nigeria, have to struggle against prejudice and stigma to get the treatment that they and their children need,” she lamented.
The baby was lately delivered in a Primary Health Clinic (PHC) one evening, she recalled. Tragically, the baby was born with his intestines outside of his body. Rita was called by the nurses to take take the family from one hospital to another. Each time they attempted to get medical attention as HIV-positive parents, they were refused care and the needed surgery to save the baby’s life.
Eventually, the following evening, thanks to persistence from Rita and sponsorship from the WBFA, the baby received surgery. Sadly, the surgery came too late to save the baby’s life.
Rita restated that this explains why HIV-positive parents in Nigeria struggle daily against prejudice and stigma to get the treatment that they and their children need. In this case that prejudice proved to be deadly.
Meanwhile, Rita’s story underscores why widespread education and counseling delivered by MamaCare’s midwives and health workers across Nigeria, in decades to come will be needed as essential programmes aimed at reducing transmission and ensuring that mothers such as the ones Rita counsels are treated with respect and dignity.
Recall, MamaCare clinics were launched in 2015 by Her Excellency, Mrs Toyin Ojora-Saraki, Founder-President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) and have educated more than 200,000 mothers on child-birth and children’s health since inception.
The overall care of the mother and child is central to the philosophy of Mamacare, which means that alongside safe birth, breastfeeding and care for the child, subjects such as drugs, domestic violence and savings are also addressed, as well as sexual health and wellbeing.
To this end, mothers and their partners are educated about HIV by MamaCare midwives, who also train health workers.
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