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Empowering HIV+ Couples

Dr. Nakato Jumba, from reproductive health- Ministry of Public Health & Sanitation.

Meet Janet* a HIV+ mother who is also two months expectant.

But that is not all; she has just been introduced into a HIV/AIDS counseling session of pregnant women at the Ongata Rongai Health Centre popularly known as kwa Saitoti by the locals.

Our Contributor, a Health Journalist in Nairobi Joel Magu reports

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Empowering HIV+ Couples

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Meet Janet* a HIV+ mother who is also two months expectant. But that is not all; she has just been introduced into a HIV/AIDS counseling session of pregnant women at the Ongata Rongai Health Centre popularly known as kwa Saitoti by the locals. “She is still naïve of what’s supposed to be done when one’s status is revealed especially after ascertaining that she is expectant. She had already gone the introductory session of what entails when someone is both expectant and HIV+.”, explains Beatrice Misoi, the nurse in charge of the Health Centre.

As I got to understand her story from the nurse even before my interview, I learnt that not all patients who are of similar status require much information and counseling after the introductory session. This depends on educational background from one expectant mother to another. Our society is both different and dynamic. There are even some communities who their culture does not allow counseling and sex discussion between them and the health practitioners.

According to statistics by Dr. Nakato Jumba from the reproductive health department, Ministry of Public Health & Sanitation, in Kenya today, maternal mortality rate among the child deliveries have been increasing even though there have been tangible logistical gains over the last five years in line with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) , of reducing the mortality rate prevalence by 70% by the year 2015. That indeed, expectant mothers should seek early maternal services from the healthcare providers to ensure child deliveries during birth are well taken care of during both neo-natal maternity and post natal maternity period.

As I internalized what Janet is going through, lack of public education on maternal child care and awareness among the mothers to go for HIV testing while one is expectant is very vital. It is no doubt then that nowadays, it is a must for every mother expecting a child to undergo a HIV test and counseling for the sake of early management and safety of both the mother and the child.

According to Beatrice, “many of those mothers who are not aware of their status even before they are tested complain of threats and intimidation from their spouses if they are found to be HIV+.”  That a case like Janet’s is common among many women who have already tested HIV+ and are not able to reveal to their husbands (spouses) about the status for fear of victimization. That means that, even in cases where couples are known to be faithful, one of the partner may be infected prior to their marriage / union but they do not take seriously the need to go for a HIV test maybe due to lack of awareness and information or either through ignorance.

Janet, during the interview went on and said her husband is not aware of her current status since she doesn’t know how to break the news to him. “I once told him to accompany me into the health centre to go for testing but he didn’t take me seriously, always saying he will one day do so but it’s not that urgent”, says Janet.

Maybe lack of community sensitization programmes even through churches, Chief’s Barazas among others, aren’t there to pass the message across on the importance of going for a HIV test in the married couples and more so those who are expectant.    Women need to be empowered with relevant information on why it’s importance and how it will be handled by health workers once the status of both partners is established.

In my analysis, public education, awareness and counseling session among the couples needs to be addressed seriously if we were to achieve MDGs of improving maternal health & reducing mortality rate. Once we achieve this, issues of stigma & discrimination among the couple(s) who are HIV+ would have been addressed.

Most women especially in rural areas prefer Traditional Birth Attendance (TBA), as opposed to the trained health workers in hospitals and health centres when giving birth, due to lack of awareness, inadequate facilities of deliveries, inadequate or poor infrastructure and lack of enough financial allocation to hospitals among others.

Nairobi’s Internews Network organization just recently organized a training for journalists and community health workers on maternal newborn and child heath, where issues relating good practices in maternal newborn health care were addressed. The participants learnt that, just like Janet’s case, information empowerment and dissemination of the same needs to be increased especially in the rural areas where there is a high number of maternal mortality rate. Women needs to be encouraged to be seeking maternal healthcare both pre-natal and post- natal clinic to be educated on health maters so as to realize year 2015 MDGs achievements on maternal healthcare.

The way forward is through consistent public awareness even in villages and communities on the needs, importances and consequences of adherence and/ or non- adherence to seeking maternal heath and child care services.  The war against stigma and discrimination among the married couples especially those who are HIV + will have been won if information and public education is addressed since knowledge is power.

Note:* Name has been changed.

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