Sudat’s story: living with HIV and a passion to protect babies from the disease

Sudat’s story: living with HIV and a passion to protect babies from the disease

Sudat Nakakeeto uses every opportunity to educate people about HIV and AIDS, an issue close to her heart as she’s been living with the disease since 2005.

Sudat Nakakeeto uses every opportunity to educate people about HIV and AIDS, an issue close to her heart as she’s been living with the disease since 2005.

“Wherever I go, my message to people is that you can save yourself the burden of so many inconveniences if you do not get HIV,” said Sudat, from Bombo, Luwero, Uganda. “At times people accept this and even ask for condoms but sometimes people do not believe my message.

“Even though I disclosed my status a long time ago, there are still so many people that doubt my status. They ask; is it true that Sudat is really HIV positive? Why hasn’t she died ever since she started telling us that she has HIV?”

Sudat works on projects to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to their children and is supported by the Community Health Alliance Uganda. She is proud of her role as a network support agent, creating awareness about HIV in communities.

She said: “I am working towards ensuring that children are free from HIV, also that mothers test for HIV and that they live.”

Finding a neglected child

Through her work Sudat came across a child who was being neglected because her family suspected she was HIV positive. Her mother had died, presumably from AIDS. The father remarried when the child was four months old, but the stepmother was reluctant to take good care of the child. This strained the relationship between the stepmother and father.

Sudat said: “I was doing my regular rounds of identifying mothers who are pregnant and asking them to enrol for prevention of mother to child transmission, when I came across baby Vanessa Babirye, who was born on 17 October 2011.

“Vanessa was eight months when I found her and she could neither stand nor walk, so I started taking care of her. She was so weak, sickly and malnourished. I held a discussion with the father and he agreed that it would be good if I took care of the baby girl if she was to live.

“When I took the baby for the first HIV test, I was told she was HIV negative. I was happy but could not believe it. So I took her for another test called the PCR-DNA test.”

This type of test is often used for testing the viral load of HIV-positive people, as well as testing babies born to HIV-positive mothers.

Sudat, who already had six children of her own, continued: “This test still confirmed that she was HIV negative. To me this was a bonus. I had expected to take care of an HIV positive baby. The good news is that Vanessa is now walking, she can play and responds well to play with other children.”

Protecting babies from HIV

Vanessa’s story had a happy ending, but for many babies born to a mother living with HIV the situation is very different.

According to the National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, 75 per cent of women registered with them are of reproductive age and they are sexually engaged and nursing ambitions of getting pregnant.

In Uganda, it is estimated that over 104,000 HIV positive women give birth to infected babies annually. It is this trend that Sudat and others are passionately trying to reverse.

Picture caption:  Pregnant HIV positive women receive guidance on prevention of mother to child HIV transmission, Mukono Health Centre, Mukono District, Uganda, 2008
© Nell Freeman/International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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