Goma, Northern Kivu: The scene is out of the ordinary, on the morning of 18 October 2016, at the Murara Health Centre, situated in the north-west section of the town of Goma, principal town of the province of Northern Kivu. Married men have come in large numbers with their wives for a prenatal visit (consultation prénatale (CPN)). For some, such as John Kalume (28 years old), it is his very first experience. Seated behind other couples, the young man and his wife, Nene, listen attentively to the awareness training session on the importance of prenatal visits and on the program known as Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.
The testing of couples
“I thought that prenatal visits were only for women. But, now I know that the husband must also be part of them for the well-being of the couple and their baby“, declared Kalume at the ceremony launching the activities for the CPN and PTME Week organized by the National Program to Fight Against AIDS (PNLS) with technical support and funding from UNICEF and Sweden.
During this prenatal visit, the Kalume couple not only listened to the advice of the health staff, but they even were brave enough to willingly get tested.
“It is not easy deciding to get tested. I heard that anti-retrovirals are hard to swallow and that you have to eat properly to withstand the side effects. But, for the family’s well-being and especially the baby’s health, it is important to know what my HIV status is, even though it scares me“, admitted Kalume.
According to the report from the second demographic and health study EDS II-RDC 2013-2014), 1.1% of the Northern Kivu population is positive for HIV. But this does not truly reflect the reality because 78 % of women and 84 % of Congolese men have never been tested for HIV. The most recent PNLS report from 2015 shows that, in Northern Kivu, only 38% of pregnant women have been tested and know their status.
Held in Northern Kivu, between the 18th and 25th of October 2016, the goal of the week for prenatal consultations and the prevention of mother -to-child transmission of HIV was to increase, by at least 30% at the end of 2016, the pregnant and breastfeeding mothers who get tested for HIV. Early testing results in better medical care for persons who test positive for HIV and greatly reduces (from 35% to less than 5%) the risk of transmission from mother to child (OMS 2013).
Coming out in the open to help create awareness about HIV
During the ceremony proclaiming the CPN/PTME Week, Nathalie*, a young Mom living with HIV/AIDS shared her experience. Married for the past ten years, the young woman is now a mother of four children who are all HIV negative, while both she and her husband have been living with HIV/AIDs for several years now.
“Our only chance was to voluntarily get tested early on during the prenatal visits” said Nathalie. “Then, I was under medical care from the first trimester of my pregnancy. Today, all my children are in good health. I encourage all pregnant women, therefore, to go to the CPN early and get tested with their husbands, in order to get better care should problems arise“, she added.
Strengthening DRC-UNICEF collaboration to eliminate HIV
The rate of prenatal consultations during the first trimester of pregnancy in Northern Kivu remains one of the lowest in the country – less than 7%, according to the PNLS (2015) Annual Report. Through its mother and child program, UNICEF is supporting the initiative to reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child throughout the province of Northern Kivu.
” The key in preventing HIV from being transmitted from mother to child is early detection followed up by proper care of HIV positive mothers. So I invite all pregnant and nursing women, as well as their partners, to get tested voluntarily at no charge“, stated Amina Bangana, representative for the head of UNICEF in Eastern DRC at the launching of the CPN/PTME week in Northern Kivu.
More info about HIV/AIDS in DRC
Translated from French by Marguerite McMillan
Photo 1 : UNICEF DRC 2014 Benoit Almeras
Photo 2/3/4 : UNICEF DRC 2016 Cynthia Kanyera
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