Catherine, age 36, is a loving mother of four who has been married for twelve years. She and her husband planned to have another child, but, in May 2011 she became sickly and suffered frequent fevers. This prompted her to seek medical care at Kwera Health Centre III, where she presented with severe headache, swollen limbs, and a poor appetite. Catherine was referred to Lira Regional Referral Hospital (RRH) for proper medical care.
“The fact I was referred to the main hospital made think I was about to die,” Catherine confessed.
At the hospital, the nurse advised her to take an HIV test and gave her the necessary counseling. “The results showed I was HIV positive and pregnant. I was admitted for a fortnight, but my biggest worry was where to get funds to enable an HIV-free baby. In my village, rumor had it that such miracles were for the rich. The HIV results changed so many things in my life, but not my intent to see my unborn baby grow and free of the virus,” Catherine said, adding she was determined to find a solution.
Catherine says that at that time, she had no idea how to how she would give birth to a baby free of HIV infection when she herself had the infection. Information or awareness about HIV treatment in general was limited in her village. However, a nurse at Lira RRH encouraged her to enroll in a program for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV as a critical step towards a virus-free baby. “I did not know that I could actually have an HIV negative child,” says Catherine.
Although she did not reveal her status to her friends back in her village, Catherine confesses the encouragement she received at the anti-retroviral treatment (ART) clinic in Lira. “The nurse always assured me of an HIV-free baby and that I would live to see my child grow if I kept on the prescribed drugs. She would even call my telephone often to find out if I was adhering to treatment,” Catherine narrates.
In August 2012, Catherine’s child, Stephen, was born at Lira RRH. The baby was immediately registered at the early infant diagnosis (EID) care point and referred to the hospital’s ART clinic for nevirapine syrup. The nurse encouraged Catherine to breastfeed the baby for one year and to continue visiting the hospital for their monthly medication. However, this seemed impossible for Catherine, who lives 40 miles away from Lira RRH, because she did not have the money for transportation.
To ensure she did not miss monthly re-fills for both herself and her baby, Catherine opened a small restaurant she operates in her village. With proceeds from her business, Catherine managed to travel periodically to Lira RRH to meet her nurse and counselor. In August 2013, Stephen was tested for HIV and found negative. Echoed in her expression of happiness, Catherine shares that Stephen’s test result is an experience she will never forget. “My biggest achievement is that Stephen is healthy and free of HIV,” she said.
In the last month, Catherine has continued to visit Lira ART Clinic for her anti-retroviral re-fills, psychosocial support and health education on how to keep healthy her baby. She herself is also doing very well and has a very positive outlook.
“I invested in health and I am excited that Stephen is now discharged. I will expand my restaurant business and I am sure we will be well,” a joyful Catherine says. Indeed, Catherine’s story is just one account of a mother who has made a commitment to her health and the health of her children, but these women need information, support and access to treatment.
Catherine is one of the many mothers that the SUSTAIN project is reaching countrywide for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Among its other activities, SUSTAIN, a project funded by USAID, supports 16 healthcare facilities in Uganda to provide quality HIV services, including PMTCT and EID, VMMC, HIV care and treatment for adults and children, and strengthening hospital systems for quality HIV and general health services.
Written By: Bernadeta Manisula Nagita, Executive and Communications Assistant, with contributions from Cordelia Katureebe, PMTCT /Pediatric Technical Advisor, and Jessica Ziegler, Knowledge Management Specialist – URC