The Mother's Story: Behind the Scenes with ABC 20/20 in Lesotho
December 28, 2010
We were the only vehicle on the road as we drove up and up and up through the mountains one early morning in November in Lesotho’s rugged Mokhotlong District.
Country Director Dr. Leopold Buhendwa and I were accompanying ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts and her crew to the remote Molika-liko health center. As part of a new series on global health debuting on 20/20
, we planned to interview mothers and pregnant women who were attending the clinic that day for HIV services.
It was a sunny day, but there was still evidence of the rains that had washed out the roads just the week before, and which sometimes leave the clinic reachable only by the Foundation’s pony couriers
As we passed scattered villages of traditional Basotho huts made of stone and thatched roofs, the only traffic we encountered that morning were women making their way along the road by foot, walking in the same direction.
A mother walks with her children to Molika-liko clinic, several miles in the distance.
“Where are they all going so early in the morning?” I asked Dr. Leo.
“To the same place we are,” he answered. “To Molika-liko health center.”
As I looked again, I noticed that most of these women had small babies wrapped up in traditional wool blankets on their backs, and many of them were pregnant. I was also struck at how young they were, many barely out of their teens. And they still had miles to go before reaching the clinic.
It took us more than an hour and a half to drive through this isolated area along steep, winding roads. I could only imagine how long the trip must be for them.
We soon found out after arriving at Molika-liko. There were already mothers who had arrived well before us and were waiting to be seen by the nurses. Deborah spoke to a gathering of these women, and discovered that their average walk to the clinic was between 2 to 3 hours. We were surprised to learn that some had walked as long as 5 hours. That meant leaving at 4 AM – before the sun had come up – to be at the clinic when it opened at 9 AM.
Deborah talks to mothers at the health center. Most are HIV-positive, but their children are
HIV-negative thanks to the medicines they receive there.
We were also impressed to discover that these mothers all knew their HIV status, as they showed us health cards for themselves and their children. Most of the mothers were HIV-positive, but most of their children were HIV-free.
Deborah sat down with the camera crew to speak with one of those mothers, Maamohelang Hlala, and her husband Kabelo. The couple was living with HIV, and they knew the heartache of losing a child to AIDS.
They had a baby boy in 2006, but a week after his birth, he began to get sick. He struggled off and on with illness, and they brought him to Molika-liko in 2007, where he was tested for HIV. That test came back positive. Maamohelang and her husband were also tested, and discovered that they were both HIV-positive.
Deborah interviews Maamohelang and her husband, Kabela. They both discovered they were
HIV-positive after losing a baby boy to AIDS.
They named their son Tsokuliso, which means “struggler” in the traditional Sesotho language spoken by most in the country. He was started on antiretroviral drugs to treat his HIV, but unfortunately he lost his battle with the virus, dying a few months later. Without early treatment, most infants with HIV won’t survive to see their second birthdays.
For the most part, both mother and father were reserved and stoic during the interview. But when Maamohelang talked about Tsokuliso, I could tell from her body language how devastating the loss still was.
“I felt so bad, because he was always sick. Even when he got better, it was just for a short time, and then he would become sick again,” she told us. “I blamed myself – If I had known my status at that time, maybe I could have taken the medications and my baby would still be alive.”
A few months after her son’s death, Maamohelang discovered that she was pregnant again. Because she knew her HIV status, she came to the clinic to receive the antiretroviral medications she needed to prevent transmission of the virus to her baby. These are the same medicines that are delivered by the Foundation’s pony courier Potso
, who serves as a lifeline to this and other clinics when weather conditions make the roads impassable.
Both mother and father said that they were very frightened that their new baby would also become sick, but Maamohelang followed the nurses’ advice and took the drugs on schedule.
In August 2008, she gave birth to another son. Her face lit up with a large smile as she told Deborah that he was HIV-free.
They named him Rebone, a Sesotho name meaning “We have witnessed a good thing.” We were certainly witness to how healthy and happy he was as he played quietly by his parents’ side during the interview.
It was soon time for the family to make the trek back home. I watched them leave the gates of the clinic for the two hour walk up the distant hills and down to their village – called Linareng – on the other side of the mountain.
The family sets off on their long journey home, to a village on the other side of the mountain
and into the valley below.
Maamohelang and Kabelo tell other couples in Linareng about their experience – about the importance of being tested for HIV, and the drugs that can stop the virus from being passed on through birth or breastfeeding.
As I watched them disappear in the distance, I remembered the last thing she told Deborah, which pretty much summed it all up.
“It was worth it to come this great distance to the clinic,” she said. “I am still alive and healthy, and my baby is HIV-free.”
Robert Yule is the Foundation’s Senior Media Manager, based in Washington, D.C.
The Foundation works closely in Lesotho with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and USAID through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The Foundation also relies on the support of private donors to achieve a generation free of HIV. You can join our efforts to eliminate pediatric AIDS – click here to find out how