A programme that helps mothers avoid passing HIV to their children has helped Caroline, who is living with HIV, give birth to two healthy children.
One of the most painful things a woman may ever live to tell is losing a child. Caroline Nakintu could tell this story five times over.
“I was considered a cursed woman, everyone was pointing at me. My heart was filled with grief and I started blaming myself,” Caroline said. “I got married at the tender age of 15, but this was not my decision, it was arranged by my parents who exchanged me for cows and goats. They didn’t know that the man I married was HIV positive.”
When Caroline, from Kikwata Mifunya, Nakaseke district, Uganda became pregnant with her first five children she didn’t know that she was living with HIV and so she never took action to protect her unborn children. Instead she relied on her mother-in-law who is a traditional birth attendant, believing the herbs from the bush would be sufficient to keep her babies healthy.
Ignorant about husband’s HIV
Caroline said: “A couple of years ago, my husband started falling sick but we thought he was bewitched. We visited different traditional doctors thinking that the ancestors were annoyed.
“It seems we were in our own world, or a country that has never existed. My husband had never revealed to me that he was living with HIV and that he’d lost a wife some years back. For over ten years I was ignorant.”
It was only after Caroline had been sick for four months and she met Milly Namala, who works as a network support agent for the Nakaseke district hospital that she found out the truth. Milly is an experienced and caring counsellor who works on preventing the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies and she advised Caroline to visit a health facility.
Pregnant and living with HIV
Caroline said: “I was checked and found out I was pregnant again. At the same time I was tested and found out I was HIV positive. After counselling from the hospital I realised that I’d infected all my previous children, it was a shock. I started shivering and I had to rush to the toilet.”
Caroline was put on antiretrovirals to protect her unborn baby. She informed her husband about the issue and he agreed to join the support group at the hospital. “This time we decided not to give birth with the help of a traditional birth attendant but to go to the hospital,” Caroline said. “Milly helped us join a family support group and we are now in close relationship with networks of people living with HIV.
“Every Sunday at a community event we listen to teachings about HIV. I now have two kids who are free from HIV because I was enrolled on the programme to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Milly became our friend and protector and she always comes to our home to check on us.”
Rising rate of new HIV infections in Uganda
The AIDS indicator survey conducted in 2011 by the Uganda AIDS Commission and Ministry of Health found that knowledge of HIV prevention methods among adults stands at 90%, yet the rate of new HIV infections has continued to rise from 6.4% to the current 7.3%.
Uganda is currently implementing the national prevention strategy 2011-2015 which focuses on increasing safer sexual behaviours and various HIV prevention interventions are being implemented.
But Milly is well aware of the challenges involved. She said: “Most women after testing and finding out they have a positive status do not return to the health centre for follow ups because they are afraid to disclose the information to their husbands which can lead to marriage breakdown.”