Kateko: A Blessing
In Dr. Bendita Glória Muthemba’s Mozambican native language, “Kateko” means blessing. It’s the name she and several colleagues gave to an abandoned newborn who was found in the trash near the hospital where they work.
The baby boy was immediately placed on antiretroviral (ART) treatment and after several weeks was tested for HIV. Dr. Muthemba and her co-workers were deeply concerned about his HIV-status because they live in a country that has one of the world’s highest prevalence of HIV. According to UNAIDS, 1.6 million people in Mozambique are living with HIV and of that number nearly 200,000 are children.
“The baby tested HIV-negative and is fine and growing well,” said Muthemba. “He is no longer at the health center; someone very kindly took him to ensure he remains healthy.”
Thirty-three year old Muthemba is a physician at the Marracuene Health Centre in southern Mozambique, about 30 miles from the capital city Maputo. The center provides ART for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children younger than 5. Muthemba’s days are long and the constant sea of patients in and out of the clinic can often be discouraging and makes her doubt if we can win this fight against a disease that seems to have the upper hand.
“I'm not too hopeful we can achieve an HIV-free generation, if we keep addressing the problem the way we are today,” she says. “As a health professional, I have come to conclude that HIV is not the only problem. We've been neglecting the social, cultural, and educational factors that contribute to the spread level and stage we are at now.”
Despite a lack of resources and other barriers like adherence and long travel distances for many of her patients, she says she is grateful for support from organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). “I think nonprofit organizations like EGPAF are doing a great job supporting and expanding health services for people living with HIV, even in very distant sites, where it wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”
As of March 2013, EGPAF has provided more than 1.2 million Mozambican women with prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) services and enrolled more than 386,000 patients into HIV care and support programs, including nearly 30,000 children.
Muthemba says she became a doctor because she wanted to make a positive contribution to society and if she wasn’t in medicine she would likely be a human rights activist. One might argue that she’s doing both, by ensuring that the country’s most vulnerable people receive the care and treatment they need to survive and remain healthy. To the Mozambican people she is “Dr. Kateko,” a blessing for them.
Racine Tucker-Hamilton is EGPAF’s Associate Director of Media Communications & Editorial Services based in Washington, D.C.