Helping Mothers Deliver Healthy, HIV-Free Babies

This interview was originally published by Johnson & Johnson's Campaign for Nursing.

During a routine pregnancy examination at a clinic near her home in Moshi, Tanzania, Tatu Msangi was shocked to learn that she was HIV-positive. She was scared for her health and the health of her baby, but determined to fight to keep her daughter HIV-free.

With the help of the health counselors at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) and the work of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), Tatu was able to access the medicine and care she needed so that she didn’t pass the virus to her baby, both during her pregnancy and in the critical weeks and months following birth.

Now, Tatu works as a nurse at the same hospital where she received care, counseling other HIV-positive pregnant women and mothers. We recently spoke with her to learn more about how her journey helped shape her nursing career.

Nursing Notes (NN): How did your experience receiving care during your pregnancy inspire you to pursue a career in nursing?

Tatu: It inspired me to become a nurse because I knew when I met mothers in the same situation I was in, I could counsel them using my own experience. They can gain courage through a real-life example – and through treatment, counseling, and having a role model, many HIV-positive mothers can deliver healthy babies.

NN: Can you tell us about your current nursing position at KCMC?

Tatu: I meet with many clients at our center and counsel them on the benefits of antiretroviral therapy (ART). For pregnant women specifically, I also conduct counseling visits at the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) clinic. Education helps the mothers deliver healthy, HIV-negative babies.

NN: What are the most common medical challenges you see among patients at KCMC?

Tatu: One problem is delay in seeking treatment. Many pregnant women do visit KCMC’s antenatal clinic, but others delay coming to the health center or the hospital. Early attendance is important for having a healthy outcome, so we visit women in their communities to provide education and counseling.

NN: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job as a nurse?

Tatu: The job is very meaningful because with my help, mothers not only receive education that will protect their babies from HIV/AIDS, but they also gain courage in themselves. Seeing that my child and I are both healthy, that we can live and work as normally as others, gives mothers confidence. As health workers, it’s not always easy for us to disclose our health status, but I choose to disclose it so that people can learn from and take courage in my experience.

NN: What do you wish others knew about PMTCT of HIV?

Tatu: PMTCT can bring happiness to the family. For mothers and fathers who are HIV-positive, having a child who is HIV-free is something that will change the family life forever. In African countries, PMTCT services continue to save the lives of many children and let many families know joy. Even if they have lost much in the midst of conflict, when a parent hears that his or her child is HIV-negative, the parent gains confidence and happiness knowing that the path of life will continue.

NN: What is your greatest hope for the future in the fight against AIDS?

Tatu: We hope that EGPAF will continue its support in our country because its presence is indispensable to our families. I also hope that all mothers get an HIV test early in their pregnancies or when they intend to get pregnant, so that they can prepare themselves for what is going to happen and the commitment they will need to make to their child. For African mothers, we need to make a commitment to get tested so that we can contribute to the millennium goal of an HIV-free generation.

NN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tatu: Community participation and male involvement in PMTCT services are both very important. If the mother is tested, but the husband is not willing to support her and continue to be in the family, the mother will often fail to disclose her status, which will interfere with efforts to deliver a healthy, HIV-negative baby. We must continue education to the broader community, especially surrounding male partner participation in HIV/AIDS prevention.

Johnson & Johnson is excited to be a part of the effort to meet challenges to human health—like leading the response to the Ebola and Zika viruses—to be a part of the efforts to treat and protect—and, very soon, prevent—HIV/AIDS. At the recent Global Citizen Festival in New York City, Johnson & Johnson announced that, for the first time, we are going into large-scale efficacy testing of the HIV vaccine in humans. To learn more about this vaccine and the work Johnson & Johnson is doing in partnership with many organizations, including EGPAF, to improve the health of people around the world, visit jnj.com/progress.

To learn more about EGPAF’s commitment to creating an HIV-free generation, visit www.pedaids.org. For more information about the role of HIV/AIDS care nurses, visit DiscoverNursing.com.