With an HIV/AIDS infection rate among pregnant women of 2.4%, the Kongo-Logre Health Clinic now has a health worker, Olives, whose sole job is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by educating affected families and providing free, lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) medications. Mother to child transmission is the leading cause of new HIV/AIDS cases in Africa. When pregnant women with HIV/AIDS disease are treated, the infection rate of newborns drops to 2% and spread of the virus in breast milk is nearly eliminated. Additionally, newborns of infected mothers are now given a dose of ARV’s soon after birth that further decreases the chance of infection.
During our recent visit, the clinic staff learned the sad news that an HIV infected mother had died. At 19 years old, she married and became pregnant. During a prenatal visit at the clinic, it was learned that she was pregnant with twins and that she had HIV disease. The mother went on ARV treatment right away and delivered healthy twins. After the twins were born they received the ARV treatment intended to further reduce the chance of infection. The babies were nursing well. Clinic staff was optimistic that mother and babies would do well.
This is where economic and social factors came into play. Only recently have ARV drugs become available in the community. Without treatment, infants of infected mothers would most often die by the age of two. Infected adults had a lifespan of 5-10 years. And the deaths were associated with prolonged illness and suffering. Combine this experience of HIV/AIDS with the scarcity of food and lack of cash in households. The result is that those likely to die who are chronically sick and suffering are a drain on the very limited family resources. Many times they do not get an equal share of food and care. In this case, the mother was not getting enough food.
First, one of the twins died of starvation, then a few weeks later the mother. When the HIV coordinator heard of the deaths, he went to the family compound with Janet, the nutrition coordinator. They found that a sympathetic woman in the household had taken on the task of nurturing the surviving, 7 week old twin. She was borrowing money from friends and family to pay the $1.50/week for formula and the baby was responding well. In general, however, everyone in the household was noticeably underweight. Janet and Olives were concerned that the family would not be able to buy the formula for long.
Though not one of our planned expenses, YWF purchased 10 weeks of powdered formula and some bottles for $160. In all likelihood, this is a wise investment that allows a child to survive and have a normal childhood.
With the ARV treatment now available at no cost, I anticipate more Nabdam families will be treated. However, many do not want others to know of their infection. Similar to the United States of ten or so years ago, there is a lot of misunderstanding and stigma associated with the diagnosis. In an effort to encourage treatment and decrease the transmission, it is my hope to add the HIV center to our feeding programs. If funded, YWF would buy $1,000 of beans, rice, millet, peanuts, and maize annually. Olives could give several pounds to patients when they come for a monthly supply of medications. With more people getting treatment, transmission will significantly decrease, especially mother to child transmission.