Life Stories: “My Life Changed With the Prick of a Needle”

Photo from EGPAF archives.

Olivier Asselin, 2009

I am a 32-year-old nurse, and the mother of four children. I am currently working for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) as a field supervisor in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). I provide technical support to health care providers within the facilities supported by EGPAF to improve the quality of services and data on HIV care and treatment, particularly regarding prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT).

I contracted HIV in 2007 at Kinshasa’s General Provincial Referral Hospital when I was working as intern after completing my studies in nursing. I inadvertently pricked myself on a needle I had used to inject an HIV-positive patient—though I was unaware of her status at that time. I reported the needle prick to the chief nursing officer, who suddenly became quiet and shook his head.

This attitude made me worry that something bad had happened. My worry was confirmed two weeks later when he suggested that I get a blood test. I was relieved when the test result was negative for HIV. Three months later, my internship ended and I quickly forgot about the incident.

The following year, when I became pregnant, I sought antenatal care at Saint Joseph Hospital. There, I attended a PMTCT education session and was tested for HIV. The test result was positive, which shocked and depressed me. Back home, I shared my HIV-positive status with husband. He wondered about the origin of my infection since we had both been tested before getting married, and our results had been negative.

I realized that I must have contracted the virus on the day I was pricked by a used needle, so I shared my HIV-positive status with the chief nursing officer who had supervised me during my internship. He confirmed me that the needle with which I had been pricked with was from an HIV-positive patient. Fortunately, my PMTCT counselors gave me hope. They told me what I could do to prevent my baby from contracting HIV. I adhered to my antiretroviral treatment  during my pregnancy to mitigate the risk of transmitting HIV to my baby.

Unfortunately, I was abandoned by healthcare providers during labor and delivery because of my HIV-positive status. They refused to touch me. I vainly begged them to save the life of my baby.
“Please help me,” I cried, “I am a nurse like you. I need your solidarity!”

But they would not touch me because of my HIV-positive status. On my own, I strongly pushed the baby and delivered a daughter, tearing my perineum, which caused severe post-partum hemorrhaging.

After delivery, Saint Joseph Hospital referred me to the Bomoi Health Center for HIV care and treatment support. Six weeks after her birth, my daughter, Dorine, developed ganglionic tuberculosis. She received treatment, but her health continued to worsen. As she was an HIV-exposed infant, health care providers initiated early infant diagnosis (EID). She tested positive for HIV and was started on HIV and tuberculosis co-infection treatment. I was depressed, but my husband empowered me with words of hope.

In 2011, I became pregnant again and delivered an HIV-free daughter, whom I named Segolene. Her HIV-negative status helped me recover the joy I lost when Dorine was born with HIV. As nurse, I started to provide psychological support to other HIV-positive women, encouraging them to adhere to HIV care and treatment services. I started telling my own story to empower them. Based on my commitment and my will to empower and encourage other HIV patients, EGPAF’s field supervisors appointed me a mentor mother and a support group leader.

In 2014, I delivered HIV-free twins, Karl and Brunela. I am living in a discordant family: my eldest daughter and I are living with HIV, while my husband and three other children are HIV negative. My husband is very supportive. He encourages us to stay on treatment. I feel that male attitudes are a strong factor in HIV adherence.

Based on my nursing degree and my commitment in empowering other people living with HIV, EGPAF’s field officers encouraged to apply for an internship as a field supervisor, and I was hired. As a field supervisor, EGPAF has given the opportunity to practice what I have learned. I tell health workers that they must take precaution when handling sharp objects, but that they do not need to be afraid of becoming infected with HIV as long as they follow procedures. If I had been better instructed, I would have avoided that needle prick.

I encourage all pregnant women to get tested for HIV. If their testing results are positive, health care providers will show them how to live a normal, healthy life with HIV and how to protect their unborn children from contracting HIV. I also encourage EGPAF to keep supporting families that need help to save their lives.

Thank you, EGPAF. Thanks to your psychological and technical support, I am healthy, have three HIV-free children, and have prevented my husband from contracting HIV.