When Jennifer Kadogo, 35, gave birth to her second daughter, Farida, she noticed some unusual swelling on her breasts. Due to this condition, she did not breastfeed her newborn child. Three years on and Farida is a healthy child, enjoying pre-school.
Two years later, when she was expecting her third child, Jennifer’s health deteriorated and she required regular hospital treatment.
“I used to fall sick all the time. I even thought I would not be able to give birth to this child,” she recalls.
She started preparing her husband to look after their other children.
“I did not see myself living for much longer.”
Jennifer did not know she was HIV positive.
"I was sure I would pass on the virus"
"When the doctors noticed my health was failing more often, they asked me to test for the HIV virus and I refused,” Jennifer says. However, she kept thinking about the doctors’ advice.
“When I was six months pregnant with Hadija, I decided to take the HIV test.”
Before Jennifer was tested, she was offered counselling and advised on how she could ensure that her unborn child remained HIV negative, should she herself test positive.
“I was very worried and sure that I would pass on the virus to my child through the womb. I could not trust the nurses when they told me I could protect my child from the virus.”
The test result was positive.
“I lost all hope in life; I knew this was the beginning of death. I knew my child would also be HIV positive and would soon die of AIDS at a very young age.”
Staff at World Vision’s prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV project, within the long-term Voi Area Development Programme, Kenya, offered help and support.
“The nurse from World Vision advised me that I could either choose to exclusively breastfeed the child for six months or choose to alternatively feed the child. I was also advised to give birth at the hospital and not at home. Due to my previous mastitis problems I had encountered in my earlier pregnancy, I decided to opt for replacement (bottle) feeding.”
“I chose replacement feeding because it is difficult to purely breastfeed the child for six continuous months. People believe that children are born with hunger and a person being left with the child will give her food or water. This will then make it easier for your child to contract the HIV virus. If you are forced to travel you will have to travel with your child. These are the challenges of exclusive breastfeeding.”
For women unable to afford replacement feeding, exclusive breastfeeding has been found to significantly reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission, when compared to partial breastfeeding. With World Vision’s support, Jennifer was able to choose replacement feeding for her daughter.
“The day Hadija was born, I was immediately given milk by World Vision. We used this milk until the baby turned six months, when we switched to full cream milk, and then weaned the child to baby porridge.” World Vision provided Jennifer with goats when Hadija was three months old, ensuring that she had a sustainable alternative source of food for her baby.
When Hadija turned 18 months, she was due to be tested for the HIV virus.
“I was very worried,” recalls Jennifer. “During the testing, I saw one child who was very emaciated and mine was healthy. This encouraged me to proceed with the test. I did not even think that my child could be negative while I was positive. After the testing I was told the results could not be released immediately as they had to be taken to Nairobi for screening.”
At this point Jennifer believed the nurses knew something was wrong with her child and they did not want to disclose it to her. During this waiting, she was devastated and could barely concentrate, eat or sleep. When she went to the clinic for the second time after the testing, the results had not yet come.
“World Vision employees used to visit me every time to encourage me and to check on how we were doing. If they had not visited us, it would have been a big challenge for me.”
"All I wanted was for my daughter to be negative"
“On the third visit to the clinic, I was told the results had arrived... All I wanted was for my daughter to be negative and have a normal life. Not a life like mine with the HIV virus inside her body.”
The nurse asked Jennifer if she could read, and gave her the printed test results. Afraid that the test would confirm Hadija was HIV positive, Jennifer looked away, tears in her eyes.
“The nurse encouraged me to read on…I saw Hadija’s name – she was negative. I had to read again several times to confirm and indeed she was. I was so overjoyed and thanked God for having saved Hadija from the HIV virus.”
Jennifer sadly recalls that many other mother’s children were confirmed to be HIV positive that day.
“The large number of children who were HIV positive shows that there are many women who are not coming out to be assisted by this project. Most people still fear stigma within the community. You see, when people know you are HIV positive, they exclude you. Other women run away when they see you. Others will tell you to go away.”
Jennifer now encourages other HIV positive women living in her community.
“I joined a HIV and AIDS support group. We are 43 members and we are also involved in an income generating activity. This way we are able to remain useful in society and help each other out. We also discuss our problems and how we can solve them. In some instances we reach out to women who are suffering in silence and assist them.”
Before World Vision started this project, the level of awareness on the prevention of mother- to-child transmission of HIV was very low. In addition, the levels of stigma were so high that most mothers would not seek support and information. This situation has improved, with almost all mothers who attend prenatal clinics opting to be tested for the HIV virus. This has increased the number of HIV positive mothers seeking to protect their children from the virus.
Looking forward to the future
“I thank World Vision for assisting me with Hadija,” finishes Jennifer. “I did not want her to die of AIDS. My prayer is for her to grow up to help the other children and also to help me when I’m old and unable to fend for myself. I confidently look forward to this day.”