Eight months ago, Amina Alli-Agboola, who is living with HIV since 2004, delivered another healthy HIV negative baby. This will make it her third baby born free from HIV/AIDS. Speaking with this reporter, the proud mother recalled her motherhood journey and how she saved her babies from HIV infection.
“When I became pregnant for my first child in 2009, my one concern was making sure my unborn child did not become HIV Positive. I enrolled for an antiretroviral treatment for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV at Randle General Hospital and I started taking my drugs diligently. When my child was eventually born, he was HIV negative.
“Among all general hospitals in Lagos state, I bow my head for Randle general hospital because they took care of me. I am grateful to all general hospitals in Lagos, because they took care of us. I also appreciate the Lagos state government for their support”, she said.
Today, Amina, who is a discordant couple (HIV positive while her husband is negative), is elated because of the PMTCT treatment which enabled her give birth to HIV negative children.
“Today I have three babies, five-year plus, four-year-old and an eight-month-old. Three of them are HIV negative and are doing wonderfully well though. However, I did not breastfeed them to avoid infection.
Although breast feeding is recommended for women with HIV/AIDS, for me I did not breast feed because the doctor said when you are doing mixed feeding it will increase the chance of the baby having HIV. Mix feeding is when you are giving the child breast milk mixed with other food”.
(Amina Alli-Agboola is the state coordinator of people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, Lagos chapter- NEPWHAN)
She is not alone; Victoria Mba action coordinator of NEPWHAN, Lagos chapter explained how PMTCT saved her unborn child from contracting HIV after she discovered her status in 2005.
“I discovered my status in 2005 after I got pregnant. I was falling ill frequently. The doctor advised me to go for HIV test, which I did. The test showed I was positive.”
For Victoria, it felt like the end of the world. Worried about having a HIV positive baby, she didn’t feel like continuing with the pregnancy. “I almost committed suicide but my husband was very supportive. The support I received from him gave me courage to carry on with the pregnancy.
“After I delivered, my baby was tested and turned out negative. A year and six months later, we took the baby for another check and she turned out negative. My doctor said it was safe to breast feed the baby and advised me to breast feed her so I took the drugs recommend for me and breast fed my baby for six months. At the end of the breast feeding, I took the baby for a test and the result turned out negative”, she said.
Because of this, Victoria said she was motivated to work with women living with HIV/AIDS.
According to Dr. Oladipo Fisher, from Lagos State AIDS Agency (LASACA), pregnant women can prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS to their unborn child if they commence PMTCT treatment early enough.
“If they are HIV positive, adequate treatment will be made available so that they can bear children who are HIV negative and also be in stable health to look after these children.
“Majority of pregnant women who are HIV do not access the PMTCT services because they are not aware or informed. Today, we call for action on the part of all including women leaders to join the global drive to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and also encourage healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies”, he said.
He said the Lagos state AIDS Control Agency in collaboration with the state health facilities has developed a program where pregnant women seen by Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA’s) can be visited by health personnel so they can be tested for HIV.
A joint report by WHO, UNICEF, UNAIDS, says that each year around 1.5 million women living with HIV become pregnant, and there is a 15 to 45 percent chance that their child will also become infected.
“However, among mothers that take a regimen of ARVs for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), the risk of HIV transmission can be reduced to less than 5 percent”, it said.
Another recent study-Promoting Maternal and Infant Survival Everywhere (PROMISE), found that taking a three-drug maternal antiretroviral therapy and daily infant nevirapine were safe and effective at preventing HIV transmission during breastfeeding, while preserving the health advantages of breastfeeding for the infant.