A brown lady with a sorrowful face walks into the clinic room- on her back is a scrawny little baby girl. Her baby lets out a high-pitched cry that grips the attention of the receptionist. The 35 year old mother, Margaret* can hardly make eye contact. The smiling receptionist at the clinic inquires how he can help; in low tones she says “…I am HIV positive and I was referred here…’ she pauses and then looking at the floor says “I want my baby to be tested.”
The tiny baby weighing barely six kilograms at nine months of age (her weight should be nine kilograms) is quickly seen by the clinical team. One month later the baby is started on antiretrovirals.
That was seven months ago. As we chat with the now happy and smiling mother I inquire about the reason she went for HIV testing. “I went to the ante-natal clinic but I refused to be tested for HIV after counseling; I was afraid. Months after delivery, I started getting sick on and off. Alarm bells started ringing as I remembered what I had been told about HIV during pregnancy…” She looked at me squarely and said “I chose to go for VCT.”
Being concerned that the rest of the family might require HIV care, I asked her the whereabouts of the father of the baby. The smile quickly fades,. She looks down, and somewhere in space. Then she clicks… “The man refused,” she said sharply. She took a deep breath then continued “After I tested HIV positive and disclosed my status to him, he packed and left me…” In a barely audible voice she whispered, “I am a single mother.”
Sensing her discomfort on the topic, I change gears a bit and ask her how she and her baby have fared since joining FACES. “My child suffered from pneumonia, malaria and was always losing weight. She had very poor appetite. I was also sick all the time; I used to get malaria and had TB….I was always dizzy” Margaret gazes lovingly at her baby and smiles. After a moment she says, “She is as playful as a kitten!”
Having been taking antiretrovirals herself for four months, she too is improving. She has gained six kilograms and is now able to work without being tired.
Gesturing she says, “ The warm welcome I got at FACES encouraged me a lot, … plus the counseling after being deserted by my husband helped me a lot. I now see a bright future and higher education for my baby and I thank God for FACES.”
I reluctantly leave their home and watch as little Sharon plays with her older sister; and I am encouraged by the visible improvement in mum and baby. Margaret continues to come faithfully to clinic with Sharon and once said, “Mothers should come out during ante-natal clinic and accept to be tested, this would enable them protect their babies, from being infected and contribute to a HIV free community. ARVS have helped my daughter the way she was skinny…”
I couldn’t agree more….
* Margaret not real name
5 September 2005