Family Support Groups Celebrate the HIV-free Child

Ignicious with his mother, Proscovia.

Eric Bond, EGPAF

Today is graduation day for 18-month-old Ignicious. He has been officially declared HIV-free by Dina Kisimi, the head nurse-midwife at the Kihihi Health Center IV in southwest Uganda. Ignicious’s mother Proscovia quietly beams with pride and relief. In contrast, Priscilla Nimanya, the senior nursing officer, lifts her voice in song.

“This means ‘God is great… God is mercy,’” says Nimanya, translating the local Bantu language, “To go through this journey and the child is HIV-negative.”

More than two years ago, when Proscovia realized that she was pregnant, she visited the antenatal care unit at the health center. Because she is living with HIV, Proscovia worried about passing the virus to her child. But heath workers assured her that she could deliver an HIV-free baby. They enrolled Proscovia in the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) program. Throughout pregnancy, the health center monitored Proscovia’s antiretroviral drug regimen and viral load to ensure that it would be nearly impossible for her to transmit the virus to her baby.

Health workers also invited Proscovia to join the health center’s family support group. Every two weeks, HIV-positive women who are pregnant or who have infants younger than 18 months come together for education and support.

“When women test positive for HIV, we welcome them and we take them to the family support group,” says Nimanya. “We give them health education. Whoever has a success story can share it with us. Then we register them. We find out those who need other services, those who need other services like antenatal care or family planning.

“When a child reached 18 months, we do a final test for HIV,” says Nimanya. “If the child is HIV-negative, we thank the mother for having kept her appointments up to the end. Then we link the mother from the family support group to continue with the HIV clinic. And we sing a song in celebration.”

“I’m the one who delivered Proscovia,” says Nurse Kisimi, who is also the PMTCT focal person. “I delivered for her and now I am the last person giving her the HIV test results, and she’s very happy about it. I’m also very happy. I delivered for the mother. I gave her advice. She has been following what I told her. And now the baby is HIV-negative.

“I’ve seen so many of those who go through PMTCT services,” continues Kisimi. “At first many of them had stigma. They wouldn’t come in to pick up their drugs. But when we met them as a group, so many are coming in.

“Since we started the family support group, we’ve never had a mother with an HIV-positive result in her baby.”