A Family's Future: One Couple's Mission to Protect Their Baby

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According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.5 million women living with HIV become pregnant each year. Without antiretroviral drugs, they face a 15-45 percent chance that their child will also become infected. However, mothers that follow prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) programs, like this one, can reduce that risk to less than 5 percent. Here is one family’s inspiring story.

“Your wife needs you. Please come.”

Benson was in the middle of his shift at the supermarket when the clinic called. He frantically asked, “Is Grace OK? Is the baby?” But the nurse would only repeat, “Please come.”

Benson raced across Mombasa’s busy, unfamiliar streets. The couple had only just moved to Kenya’s second largest city for work and, as he reached the Mtwapa Health Centre, where Grace had gone for antenatal care, Benson worried they had made the wrong choice. “We don’t know anyone here,” he thought. “It’s just Grace and me.”

In the clinic’s courtyard, he found Grace—four months pregnant, her eyes red and swollen from crying. “What has happened?” Benson asked urgently. “Are you well? Are you OK?” Within moments, a nurse appeared and said, “Grace is fine. There is no problem with the baby. But she would like to speak to you privately.”

Learning Their Status

Earlier that day, when Grace arrived at the Pathfinder-supported clinic, she was unconcerned. “Every pregnant woman takes an HIV test,” Grace says, “and I thought I was negative. When I found out I was HIV positive, I was shocked.” Grace remembers crying for two full hours before telling her husband the results.

“What? Positive?” Benson recalls his disbelief. “Today, I am OK,” he says, “but back then I just never thought…” Benson’s voice trails off. “I had never been tested before. But that day, after counseling, I learned my status, too. I was positive.”

The concern Grace and Benson felt for themselves quickly turned to desperation to protect their child. “How could we keep our baby from getting HIV?”

A Life-Changing Support System

Grace and Benson had a mission—a healthy family. With the help of three incredible women, whom Pathfinder has the privilege to support, they had reason to hope.

Jacinta—Trusted Community Health Worker

After the couple learned they had HIV, Jacinta reached out to them in their home. She used the training she received from Pathfinder to share knowledge about the virus, as well as other important factors that affect a family’s health, such as nutrition. When Jacinta saw they were afraid of others learning their HIV status—of being discriminated against—she put her counseling skills to use. She said, “My ears will be wide, but my mouth will be small,” and quickly earned their trust.

Of the training from Pathfinder, Jacinta said, “It especially helped me understand people who are facing stigma, how to help them come out and begin treatment.”

Diana—Inspiring Peer Educator

When Grace and Benson returned to the clinic to start their antiretroviral therapy and begin treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), they found an ally in Diana. As a “mentor mother,” Diana is trained to use her own experience as a mother living with HIV and a former PMTCT client to inspire the couple to make healthy choices. She spoke with them about adhering to treatment, as well as communicating more openly with each other about safe sex and their plans for the future.

Grace is deeply grateful for this mentorship. “Diana helped us see that many people are living well with HIV,” she said. “She shared her own story. It is a normal story. It helped us go on with our lives”

Lydia—Compassionate Nurse

There are several skilled nursing officers at the clinic, but one made a strong impression on the couple. “Oh my god, I love Lydia,” says Grace. Lydia used her Pathfinder training to counsel Grace and Benson and provide them with a treatment plan, which they followed closely.

“I took my medicine,” says Grace. “When I gave birth to Yvonne, her first test came back negative.” The news—that their baby girl might not have HIV—was very good, but the couple remained guardedly optimistic. Both parents knew they had a long road ahead.

Grace followed Lydia’s instructions for exclusive breastfeeding. “I breastfed Yvonne for six months without giving her any other food or liquids. I took my medicine every day. When our daughter turned one and a half, she took another test.” Grace takes a deep breath. “This was the last test, the most important.”

Finally, a smile grows across her face. “Negative. Can you imagine?” This is the news they were waiting for.

Today, as Benson shares his family’s story, he is overwhelmed with relief. “Negative and healthy,” he nods. “I could not imagine how I would handle my baby having HIV.” Thanks to a powerful support system, and the couple’s commitment to taking care of each other, they do not have to.

“We are very happy,” Grace says, standing with her family, Yvonne’s tiny arms wrapped around a stuffed bear. “We are proud.”

*APHIAplus Nairobi-Coast is funded by USAID and implemented through a partnership between Pathfinder International, ChildFund International, Cooperative League of the USA, Population Services International, and the Network of AIDS Researchers of Eastern and Southern Africa. The project provides large-scale support to six county health systems. In very close collaboration with the Ministries of Health and through a coordinated approach with several partners, it carries out activities at every level—from province to county and district level and reaching down to the district health facilities and their communities.

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