Robert Yule, senior media relations manager of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, shares Sabina’s inspiring, true story of life with HIV/AIDS.
The past 30 years of the AIDS epidemic have seen their share of advances and setbacks in preventing and treating the disease. Ironically, one of the greatest successes is still one of the least known. Seventeen years ago, scientists discovered how to prevent almost all new HIV infections in infants and young children.
One happy family. Sabina and Patrick with their son, Betton. Photo credit: James Pursey/ Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
Throughout the past decade, international organizations, national governments, corporations and individual donors have joined together in a mission to eliminate pediatric AIDS worldwide. The results so far have been impressive –- prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV coverage for women in low- and middle-income countries has jumped from just 15 percent in 2005 to 53 percent in 2009. Still, that’s not nearly high enough to create a generation born free of HIV.
Organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) have been working in sub-Saharan Africa and other affected regions to bring that number up to 100 percent — and to bring the number of new HIV infections in children down to zero.
In Tanzania, for example, there were an estimated 86,000 pregnant women living with HIV in 2009. Reaching these women with lifesaving PMTCT services -– both to protect their own health and keep their children HIV-free –- is a top priority for EGPAF, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
EGPAF recently met one mother in northwestern Tanzania who shared her account of how she found out that she was HIV-positive, and then discovered that her children didn’t have to be:
I work as an embroiderer and make beautiful patterns on cloths. My family and I also depend on our family farm to make a living. We plant rice, maize and cotton.
I first learned I was HIV-positive in 2009, when I was five months pregnant with my son. I had visited a clinic for a regular prenatal check-up, where I was counseled and tested for HIV and malaria.
My results came out positive, and I felt the whole world crumble around me. I called my sister who works as a nurse in Mwanza. Fortunately, she helped me understand the diagnosis, and made me realize that having HIV didn’t mean that I was going to die.
But it was still difficult. I struggled with disclosing to my husband for more than a year. I hid my drugs in the maize flour so he wouldn’t find out I was HIV-positive.
When I finally gained the courage to tell him, he reacted differently than I imagined he would. He was supportive. He went to the hospital, got tested, and was also diagnosed HIV-positive.
Since learning our HIV status, my husband and I have lived happily together. I educated my husband about living positively with HIV, and we take our drugs together.
We also worked hard to ensure that our unborn baby would stay healthy, following all of the precautions for him to be born HIV-free.
Our baby boy, Betton Patrick, is now eight months old and HIV-negative. When we found out, we celebrated with our family.
We are grateful that we have not passed this virus to any of our children. It is the best gift we can ever give them.
I can’t believe how we have overcome the odds. I encourage all women to get tested for HIV early so they too can take the right steps to stay healthy and raise HIV-negative children.”