Mothers' Support Group in Tanzania Works to Prevent Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV
Joanna Martin, UNICEF
NJOMBE REGION, United Republic of Tanzania (September 14, 2012) — A group of HIV-infected mothers and their partners have formed a mothers’ support group attached to their local health clinic in Kitulo Ward, Makete District, United Republic of Tanzania.
Members of the group give psychosocial support to one another and assist HIV-positive women to follow up with their medical check-ups and treatment. The group also provides information to the community about preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV.
Makete District is in Njombe Region, formerly part of Iringa Region, where the highest prevalence of HIV exists in the country.
A Chance to Make the Coming Generation HIV Free
The mothers’ support group provides its services through home visits, and through drama. The group has formed an innovative drama group, Tuitange. Through role play, Tuitange encourages voluntary HIV testing and counseling and stresses the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in PMTCT.
Some members of Tuitange are HIV positive and have chosen to be open about their status to encourage other women to get tested and to learn about how they can manage the infection and avoid passing HIV on to their babies.
Healthcare worker Agnes Sanga is a keen participant in Tuitange. “Through drama, we educate people about PMTCT and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months after a baby is born. The drama group membership has grown to 22 mothers and 13 fathers. We started small, as most people were scared of being stigmatized when joining our group. Now they come and join in readily. We go from ward to ward and, after obtaining permission from the authorities, we educate mothers and fathers on PMTCT. I want to tell everybody about PMTCT, because we are already infected, but we have a chance to make the coming generation HIV free.”
Gaining a Foothold in the Community
The mothers’ support group is achieving impressive results within the community. Couples understand the importance of being HIV tested when expecting a baby and no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed. As a result, a higher number of pregnant women and their partners are attending antenatal care, with uptake of HIV testing and counselling now correspondingly high. For those women found to be HIV positive, adherence to treatment has increased as a result of individual follow-up sessions encouraged by the support group.
“After I gave birth to my baby, I was given medication. A month later, they took blood samples to the Mbeya Referral Hospital,” said Wema Sanga, who is HIV positive. “When the results came in, I was delighted to hear the baby was HIV free. My partner and I decided to follow the doctor’s instructions and exclusively breastfeed for the first six months.”
The elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is a UNICEF-supported program aimed at providing services to pregnant women, children and their families. The program offers HIV counseling and testing, provision of antiretroviral drugs, support for safe infant-feeding practices, early HIV testing on babies, and further antiretroviral treatment for mothers and babies who need it.