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 Sunday 08 November 2009
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Bwenge Kana: "People from the community were asking me why I was not breastfeeding"
August 2008 (PlusNews)

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Enrolling in a PMTCT programme prevented Kana's second child from contracting the virus
KAMPALA, Bwenge Kana is a member of The Aids Support Organisation (TASO) in Mbale district, eastern Uganda. She has been taking antiretroviral (ARV) medication since 2005, when she enrolled in TASO's prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme after she became pregnant with her second child. She told IRIN/PlusNews about her experience.

"I am so happy that after using PMTCT I now have an HIV-negative baby and am settled in my marriage. My hope has been restored and my husband is happy that we have an HIV-free baby boy. How I wish I had listened to my counsellor during the first pregnancy.

"My husband and I decided to enrol in the PMTCT programme and adhere to ART [antiretroviral treatment] - that is why we were able to get an HIV-negative baby.

"I named my baby after Alex Coutinho, the former director of TASO. I knew Alex personally because he supported us clients to get HIV drugs free at a time when they were very expensive.

"There has been stigma associated with not breastfeeding Alex. People from the community were asking me why I was not breastfeeding and it takes time to give the right answer.

"I decided not to breastfeed even though I knew about exclusive breastfeeding [recommended for HIV-positive mothers who cannot afford breast milk substitutes]. I was taught how to mix [cow's] milk and dilute it to the right amounts.

"Our first baby is HIV-positive, and when I got the news it was not easy; I just broke down. I am the only child and both my parents are dead, so when I had my baby I thought she would be my sister, my mother ... my everything. When I knew that she was sick, I thought she was going to die.

"Since she started taking ARVs in 2006 it has been tough. I give her ARV drugs and septrin [an antibiotic] every day. She asks me why she has to take drugs when she is not sick and sometimes I cry. She even asks me why I do not give [medicines to] the baby.

"The biggest problem is I cannot tell her what she is suffering from because she cannot understand - she is only four years old. But she joined the drama group at the centre and I think she is gradually beginning to understand.

"As a member of TASO I advise women on prevention of HIV and other STDs [sexually transmitted diseases], family planning, living positively and disclosure. We advise them that before conceiving, they check that their CD4 count [which measures the strength of the immune system] is high, the viral load [the amount of HI virus in the blood] is low, and check for STDs.

"We also get pregnant clients and we educate them about the services available. I encourage women to use family-planning methods and opt for caesarean births - if you are weak you cannot go in for labour.

"I use family planning too, because it would be useless for me to have many children, considering my status. More pregnancies will weaken me and I will not be able to look after my children. I had a lot of pressure from my in-laws to have more babies until I disclosed my status to them."



[The above testimony is provided by IRIN, a humanitarian news service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

IRIN welcomes editorial and photographic submissions for inclusion on this page, reserving the right to select and edit as appropriate.
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.