Monday October 28 2013

HIV-positive mothers find solace in family support groups

HIV-positive mothers find solace in family support groups

Star South West officials pose for a group photo with the young graduands and their parents. Photo by Rajab Mukombozi. 

By Rajab Mukombozi

When Stellamarris Kasande tested positive for HIV/Aids in 2008, she lost all hope of ever giving birth to a healthy, HIV-free child.

“I lost my first child in 2006. She was sickly and I did not know what the problem was.

I was also sickly until 2008, when I became pregnant again. I was advised by my aunt to go for an HIV test in Kampala, and the results indicated that I was positive. It is then that I realised that this could have been the reason why my first child died. It meant that getting pregnant again would be a risky thing to do,” says Kasande.

But today, Kasande is a proud mother of a three-year old son who is HIV-negative, thanks to Amatsiko Family Support Group.

The support group started in Ibanda District in January 2011, with eight mothers and their children.

Today the group boosts of 254 members, comprising of HIV positive mothers, women, their husbands and children.

Providing key services
The major aim of the support group is to strengthen provision of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services.

This has been done by providing antennal and postnatal services to HIV positive mothers, encouraging them to seek other health services, and providing them with the opportunity to meet and support each other psychologically and socially.

The women and their children are also linked to HIV/Aids prevention, care and treatment services. It is this kind of support that has so far helped Kasande, and 53 other HIV positive mothers to give birth to HIV-free children.

Close monitoring
Right from the time these women gave birth, the support group has been following and monitoring them to ensure that they give birth to HIV negative children, but also reduce any chance that could make the children to get the virus after birth.

Ruth Kamwine is also a beneficiary of the Family Support Group. Although she has one child living with HIV/Aids, she says the programme helped her to have another child who is free of the virus.

She says while pregnant with her second child, she was able to be guided, given counselling and advised on how to ensure she has a healthy baby.

“This has proved that we can stop the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies. For the 53 women who we started with on the programme, it has been confirmed that they all have HIV negative children. This is an indication that we have achieved 100 per cent prevention among this group,” says Joy Angulo, of Star South West, an organization that is implementing the Family Support Group Initiative under the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation.

Ms Angula says with the success achieved, the programme is going to be rolled out in 16 districts in the South Western Region.

Specious Kamishani, the Amatsiko Family Support Group focal person says the group’s aim is to ensure every HIV positive woman in the region has a chance to eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission.

According to Kamishani, the children born to HIV positive mothers have undergone three HIV tests within an 18 month period, to ensure that they remain free of the disease.

Ibanda District Health Officer, Dr Julius Bamwine puts HIV prevalence in the district at 8 per cent.

He explains that the most-at-risk populations include drug abuse, poverty, domestic violence, rapid urbanisation and complacency which has resulted from the availability of life-prolonging Aids medicines.