Tendai Rupapa in Domboshava
Being HIV positive does not mean a death warrant as one can live a normal life and bear children as long as they adhere to advice from health experts and take medication properly and consistently.
This came out during the Free to Shine Campaign by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, where a 28-year-old woman who tested HIV positive in 2017, shared her experiences and how she delivered a healthy bundle of joy.
The Free to Shine Campaign is an HIV and AIDS programme launched by the First Lady in 2018, as a follow-up to the commitment made by African First Ladies and the African Union (AU).
The initiative is committed to ending HIV and AIDS in children by the year 2030 and improving the health of their mothers following indications that HIV prevalence in children was still high owing to increasing cases of vertical transmission among a host of other factors.
Yesterday, Amai Mnangagwa, who is the vice president of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) and also the country’s health ambassador, took the campaign to Domboshava at Chinamhora Clinic, where she met pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV to intensify efforts to combat HIV infection among new born babies.
“I tested positive in 2017 and took my medication consistently. Though this was initially a bitter pill to swallow, I was spoken to by health experts and got to appreciate how important it was to take medication religiously.
“In 2018 I fell pregnant and came here while I was three months pregnant and the nurses changed my pills and gave me those that ensured I did not transmit HIV to the unborn child. I took my medication constantly until the ninth month of pregnancy and delivered my child. My child was given medication after birth and after six weeks the child was tested. At nine months the child was tested again and the results came negative,” she said.
She continued: “This is because I heeded the counsel of the nurses and gave my child medication consistently as I did the same. I weaned my baby and my child is negative. To my fellow women out there living with HIV, being HIV positive does not mean you are dying. You can actually plan your family. I initially feared falling pregnant, but my child is negative and healthy. I want to thank the First Lady for this initiative because knowledge is power and we have learnt a lot.”
In her remarks, the First Lady said she was committed to the prevention of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths among children, adolescent girls and women as this was a key aspect of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
“In August of 2018, I launched the Zimbabwe Free to Shine Campaign as a demonstration of my commitment to an HIV free generation of children in Zimbabwe and my aspirations to see women living with HIV enjoy healthy and productive lives. The Africa wide Free to Shine Campaign was launched in January of 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the headquarters of the African Union. No child should be born with HIV because her mother is infected. In addition, HIV positive mothers should remain alive and healthy to be able to raise their children and contribute to the development of their country,” she said.
Zimbabwe, the First Lady said, had made significant gains in reducing the transmission of HIV from mother to child with a mother-to-child transmission rate of 8,17 percent.
“Put another way, for every 100 HIV positive mothers, about 8 of their children will be infected by HIV. I know that the target for the country is that less than five children are born HIV positive for every 100 HIV positive mothers. If you ask me, no child should be born HIV positive. We need to intensify the many effective actions that can reduce new HIV infections among children. We know what we must do!”
The First Lady said it was important that every pregnant woman accessed antenatal care and delivered in a health facility as this was where they could receive HIV prevention and treatment services in addition to other important services.
“Vasikana apa ndirikuti kana makazvitakura zivai kuti ana mbuya (nurses) pano pachipatara ndiro basa ravo rekukubatsirai kwete kuzoyenda kunobatsirwa nevasina ruzivo nezve utano. Taona kuti izvi zvirikuunza matambudziko kuna amai zvese nemwana nekuti zvimwe zvinoshandiswa ipapo dzimwe dzenguva handizvo zvinenge zvichitenderwa nevehutano. Kuzvipatara ndiko kwamunowana zvese zvinoenderana nezvehutano mobva marairwa kuti mozvifambisa sei kana mabva kusununguka,” she said.
She said women living with HIV who start treatment must stay on treatment and be virally suppressed throughout their pregnancy and breastfeeding and for the rest of their lives.
Keeping women on treatment, she said, ensured their health and well-being and prevented transmission of HIV to their babies.
“Women living with HIV who discontinue their medication will get a high viral load in their blood, and this will increase the risk of the baby getting infected by HIV.”
The country’s health ambassador said men must take responsibility and know their HIV status. If they are HIV positive, she said, they must access HIV treatment and they must stay on treatment to reduce their viral load and help protect their own health and that of their families.
“Chirwere ichi chinouya nekwese kuna mai kana nekuna baba. Vana baba kazhinji tinoona havayende kunotariswa kuti vakamira sei. Vamwe vanenge vanotariswa voonekwa vari positive, kumba havachataure uku protection havashandise, chirwere chobva chatapukira nekuti vanenge vachiviga. However, there is no need to hide your status for the sake of protecting your family. I call on all men to take responsibility for their health by getting tested and treated for HIV for the sake of their partners, wives and children’s health.”
The First Lady encouraged peer support groups of women living with HIV, such as mentor mothers, to support each other throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
“Carry out home visits and help fellow HIV positive women who are pregnant and those who are breastfeeding to stay on HIV treatment. I firmly believe that peer support groups can provide pregnant women living with HIV the right support and adherence assistance they need throughout their pregnancy and breastfeeding period.
The health ambassador said there was need to address other barriers such as the scrapping of user fees so that people are not kept away by prohibitive charges.
“Mari yatinobhadara kuchipatara tirikuchema nekukurudzirawo hurumende kuti itarire ipapo itibvisirewo mitengo wekuti titariswe semadzimai nekuti mitengo yacho irikutiremera. I know that women face too many financial barriers in protecting their health. Other barriers to women accessing health care, such as the need for their spouse’s consent, long distance to clinics, traditional and religious beliefs must be addressed at the local level. I am glad that the traditional leadership is here represented by our chiefs and headmen, and religious leaders are here too to address some of the misconceptions about health care seeking by pregnant and breastfeeding women.”
“I remain committed as a key ally to this agenda and hope to foster community involvement and participation to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. I promise to mobilise and reinforce key partnerships and drive advocacy for action to end paediatric AIDS by 2030, if not before. As OAFLAD, and as mother of the nation, I am gratified to note that services have been availed today here at Chinamhora Clinic to address non-communicable diseases such as cervical cancer as it is one of the many areas in which I have keen interest. I hope all the mothers here will have an opportunity to be screened for these non-communicable diseases when the timing is right.
“Tiripanyaya yecancer ipapa, ndavakuda kutenderera nenyaya yeprostate cancer yana baba toona kuti vana baba vanobuda here for screening zvaiita madzimai pacervical cancer screening. I wish to acknowledge the Ministry of Health and Child Care for their tireless efforts in improving the quality of services at our health care facilities and the National AIDS Council for spearheading a multi-sectoral HIV response in our country.”
Amai Mnangagwa urged women to take a leaf from the story of the woman who testified to living with HIV and AIDS, who managed to bear an HIV negative child due to consistent and accurate use of medication.
She thanked UNAIDS for supporting the work of OAFLAD in-country as well as in Addis Ababa, and for making it possible for her to host the community event.
The women walked away with food hampers courtesy of the First Lady. Minister of State for Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Aplonia Munzverengwi welcomed the First Lady saying; “Amai we welcome you to Mashonaland East on a special day focusing on the health of women and men. You are focusing on the critical issue of preserving life, especially the health of children. As health ambassador, the First Lady says one’s HIV status is not shameful . . . You are doing great wonders for the country.”
The provincial medical director, Dr Paul Masvimbo, said though they had scored many successes in HIV prevention, they still had challenges which needed the First Lady’s intervention to resolve.
“As the Ministry of Health and Child Care we are delighted at this event where our mother is with us. This occasion is taking place in a special week during which our President unveiled the National Development Strategy 1 which dwells on the need to achieve upper middle income status by 2030. I am saying this because our target of ending AIDS in children is also set for the year 2030,” he said.
UNAids country director Mrs Sophia Mukasa Monico praised the First Lady for her hands-on approach and great show of commitment in most of the things she does.
“As the ambassador for health, as the mother of the nation, as somebody who really cares, you always go to the people not only to be told, but to hear with your ears and to see with your eyes what is happening. You are indeed the mother of the nation,” she said. She implored all those who are HIV positive and pregnant women to stick to their treatment for the benefit of the nation.
National Aids Council (NAC)chief executive Dr Bernard Madzima, who was represented by Mrs Medeline Dube, said the Free to Shine Campaign was in sync with their programmes as NAC.
After her programme, the First Lady passed through a Chirodzero Business Centre market, where she interacted with traders and bought brooms, traditional grains, traditional rice and fruits.
People who jostled to catch a glimpse of her were left spellbound by her humility and demeanour as she moved from table to table buying her goods.
She promised the community that she would return to roll out empowerment programmes for them.