Understanding the PMTCT
Sirri Lilian Chebe, who is responsible for counselling and monitoring HIV-positive patients at a local NGO, explains that the PMTCT is “a prophylactic treatment that is given to HIV-positive women free of charge. It is a treatment that runs throughout the pregnancy up to delivery and prevents the mother from passing the virus on to her baby.”
She further explains: “The first dose of the treatment is administered on the fourteenth week of the pregnancy and subsequently once a month until delivery. After delivery, the mother follows another treatment for a week.”
With regards to breastfeeding, Lilian Chebe adds: “When the mother chooses to breastfeed, the baby is placed under treatment from the time of birth up until the end of the breastfeeding period. The child will be first tested at six weeks. If it is HIV-negative, it will continue with the breastfeeding. We do a second test six weeks after the end of the breastfeeding period.”
Cameroonian Bridget Naby is a happy young mother. Yet, she was diagnosed with HIV. But thanks to the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT), she gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby, much to her surprise.
By Anne Mireille Nzouankeu, Yaoundé
“I went for an antenatal consultation and they discovered I had HIV.” Bridget, who is now 24, recalls when she learned about her HIV status in 2010, during her second pregnancy. “I was very shocked to learn that I was HIV-positive, because for me it immediately meant death. I considered having an abortion because I didn’t want a sick child who would be a source of problems.”
The young mother, who lives in the town of Njinikom in Cameroon’s north-west province, was then taken care of by the medical staff at the local hospital. They explained to her that, thanks to the advances in medicine, it is now possible for HIV-positive women to give birth to healthy babies.
A few months later, the young woman gave birth to a beautiful son, who was HIV-negative. "At that time, I felt a heavy load falling off my shoulders; a great relief to learn that my baby is healthy,” Bridget narrates with a broad smile.
Bridget was only fifteen years old when she first fell pregnant. At the time, she did not know she was HIV-positive and only found out during her second pregnancy. Her first child, who is now seven, is also HIV-positive.
According to a UNICEF report by the Yaoundé office, published in June 2012, the HIV prevalence rate among pregnant women is at 7.6 percent in the country. The report states further that 20 percent of mother to child transmissions of HIV occur during pregnancy, 65 percent at the time of birth and 15 percent during breastfeeding.
Despite her status and still thanks to the PMTCT programme, Bridget was nevertheless able to breastfeed her second son for six months.
“The breastfeeding was safe because the baby was under prevention treatment throughout the process. Today, my son is fourteen months old and HIV-negative,” says a happy Bridget.
Life after HIV
The prevention of mother to child transmission programme also includes family planning courses, counselling on sexuality and co-infection. “After attending those classes, I opted for abstinence. My two children have two different fathers, who both vanished when I told them about my pregnancy. I prefer to focus on my children’s education,” says Bridget.
The PMTCT has also made, Bridget, who is also under antiretroviral treatment, become more responsible. “In the past, I was not taking my medication regularly and I didn’t have a job. I did not see the point of looking after myself and my health. My life was over. It’s like asking someone to use a device with a dead battery. There is no point,” she explains.
“I used to think that there was no life after HIV but now I know there is one. My first son is HIV-positive and under ARV treatment. But seeing my second son in good health gives me the courage to keep on fighting. The PMTCT gave me hope.”