Supporting Mothers and Their Futures in DRC
Jean Robert Ntsukunyu and Rachel Samdahl
Bijoux Tshinzanga lives in the Ngaliemah commune of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with her young daughter. Despite a difficult beginning to her pregnancy, Bijoux and her daughter are now healthy and happy, thanks to the Morija Health Center and their prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) program.
“I suffered greatly at the beginning of my pregnancy,” says Bijoux. “My partner did not recognize himself as responsible for the pregnancy. He abandoned me. My health declined, and I found myself covered in rashes. At the recommendation of an acquaintance, I decided to go to Morija Health Center for medical care.”
The Morija health center, supported by Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation’s (EGPAF) Malamu Project through funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has become an invaluable access point to PMTCT care and support.
At the Morija Health Center, Bijoux received PMTCT education and agreed to be tested for HIV. The result was positive. “Honestly speaking, I considered that moment as the end of my existence in this world,” recounts Bijoux. “I went through a serious psychological depression and lost all hope for life on this earth. I felt my only place was the grave. I was dreaming about death.”
After receiving counseling and being encouraged and empowered by EGPAF-mentored health care providers, Bijoux initiated antiretroviral therapy (ART).
“Two weeks after I started taking ART, the rash on my body disappeared and I started to believe in the positive effects of HIV treatment,” says Bijoux. “My hope for survival was renewed because I started to look healthy, even in the eyes of others. I continued attending the Morija Health Center throughout my pregnancy, and I delivered a daughter who is now seven months old and free of HIV, according to early infant testing.”
After seeing first-hand the benefits of the PMTCT program, Bijoux decided to become a Mentor Mother. The Mother Mentor program, supported by EGPAF, allows HIV-positive women who benefited from PMTCT to empower other patients to follow HIV treatment guidelines and observe the health recommendations provided by health care providers.
Bijoux is grateful to the Morija Health Center and EGPAF for support. “This support is indispensable to me since it has helped me to become healthy, and most importantly, to have an HIV-free daughter who is also healthy. It is something like a dream for me. I could not believe it earlier, but now it is a reality,” says Bijoux. “God bless them. I encourage them to continue providing this support.”