Born HIV free: the difference men can make

“If it wasn’t for my husband’s support and care, my two boys would be HIV positive...I think men’s involvement in prevention of mother to child transmission is very important and I have a reason to say it now,” reveals Stella Katusabe, an HIV-positive woman from Kasese.

“If it wasn’t for my husband’s support and care my two boys would be HIV positive. I’m lucky my boys survived and are looking healthy. I think men’s involvement in prevention of mother to child transmission [PMTCT] is very important and I have a reason to say it now,” reveals Stella Katusabe, an HIV-positive woman from Kasese.

Over 25, 000 children in Uganda are infected with HIV through mother to child transmission (MTCT) every year but if a woman has the support of their male partner as Katusabe does a difference could be seen in the number of those becoming infected.

In Uganda, it is estimated that 18% of new HIV infections are through vertical (otherwise known as mother to child) transmission, the second most common mode of HIV transmission behind sexual transmission in the country.

As Katusabe reveals, two lives were saved when her partner was brought on board. This should be put under consideration by all stakeholders.

“My husband stood by me, gave all the support; social and mental and financial. I went with him to the health centre where [we] got tested together and counselled. All we had to do was to save the baby so he had to support me like the health workers had told us and we succeeded. We even decided to get another baby who was also delivered HIV free,” Katusabe says.

Faith Kwebaze Makombo, the Programmes Coordinator National Community of Women Living with HIV/Aids in Uganda (NACWOLA) in Kasese, says when men participate in PMTCT programmes their knowledge of HIV increases, they become more supportive and their receptiveness to HIV testing also increases.

Dr Yusuf Baseke, the district health officer in Kasese, observes that men’s role in HIV prevention is pivotal to changing the course of the epidemic. He wants this war to be fronted by male political leaders.

“We’re laying a strategy to make sure our men are also involved in the prevention of MTCT. We are encouraging male political leaders to be role models such that they can be able to accompany their wives when they go for antenatal care, such that the community can copy a leaf from them,” Baseke said.

Dr Mary Munyagwa, a paediatrician at Kagando Hospital in Kasese, says men’s participation in antenatal and PMTCT is affected by socio-cultural barriers centred in tribal beliefs and traditional gender roles, something that needs to be addressed.

“We have been talking of male’s involvement and it has proved to be a challenge to all of us and I think it is high time we address the grassroots; the main points as to why our men are not getting involved in reproductive health issues. Some of the reasons is because we have had our cultural beliefs and norms that tell men they are supposed to do certain things and women certain things,” Munyagwa observes.

Dr Munyagwa advises that school health programmes be utilised and some beliefs demystified so that the involvement of men increases to help improve on the PMTCT programme.

“If we can go back to and utilise our school health education programmes – right from the young age – and demystify some of these beliefs like the role of a man in reproductive health, some of these things will help our young people who are growing to be future fathers,” adds Munyagwa.

 

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