This post by Kelli Ross was originally featured on the Lwala Community Alliance blog.
No pregnant mother wants to pass HIV to her unborn child. Deborah Achieng, a farm worker and mother of four, is no different.
Deborah first suspected something was wrong when her weight dropped when she was two months pregnant. A trained Community Health Worker (CHW) from Lwala Community Alliance visited her at home as a part of our Thrive thru 5 program (supported by Ronald McDonald House Charities, Izumi Foundation, Health eVillages, Real Medicine Foundation, and The Charitable Foundation). Deborah followed up on their encouragement to visit the Lwala hospital, where she was tested for HIV. If positive, Deborah would then have access to antiretroviral (ARV) medicine and antenatal education to drastically reduce the odds of transmitting the virus to her unborn child.
Deborah began her antenatal care, where she received counseling on infant feeding, safe sex practices, as well as family planning. She also learned that she was HIV-positive, and joined a support group of HIV-positive mothers at the hospital.
When Deborah went into labor, she called the CHW, who called for an ambulance from the Lwala hospital. She was rushed to hosiptal, where she immediately received the single-dose ARV prophylaxis. Four hours later, her baby girl Shamimah Adhiambo was born, and she was also given a pediatric dose.
Now, Shamimah has graduated at 18 months and has been confirmed as HIV-free (through a program supported by Blood:Water and FACES). Today, Deborah is a happy mother who hopes that one day Shamimah will be a nurse. The CHWs will monitor Shamimah until age 5 for childhood illnesses and will offer advice to Deborah.
Deborah says she does not pay attention to any form of stigma. When she comes for her ARVs at the hospital, she does not pay attention to the stares she might receive. She knows is that she is there to take care of herself and her family. Getting treatment will make her life better.
Some people who are HIV positive do not stick to treatment because of shame and stigma, but Deborah says it is necessary for everyone who is HIV positive to take care of themselves. “I have taken care of myself, and my baby is HIV negative,” she says. She looks forward to having one more child. But not immediately, she adds, with a smile.
Lwala Community Alliance is a community-led innovator operating in rural western Kenya. Lwala was founded by Drs. Milton and Fred Ochieng’—brothers from the community—in response to the loss of their parents to HIV. They catalyzed their neighbors to build their community’s first hospital. Today, Lwala is much more than a hospital. We support people in their homes, schools, and farms to advance their own comprehensive well-being. Learn more about Lwala Community Alliance at their website or by watching the below video: