Sisters Helping Sisters
Fatoumata Koîta came to Sainte Therèse Koumassi clinic in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for antenatal care when she was pregnant two years ago. She followed the advice of health workers and was tested for HIV. She learned that she is HIV-positive. She also learned about prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), which could protect her unborn child. She began attending a support group of HIV-positive mothers, who encouraged her to adhere to her medication regimen throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. When Fatoumata’s son, Mohammed, was 18 months old, he was declared HIV-free by the HIV counseling and testing officer.
“I held a celebration,” says Fatoumata. “I cooked a special meal for my family, and we were all very happy. Being a mother keeps me alive. The thought of seeing my children gives me the courage to wake up every day.”
Since 2014, we have not had a child come back HIV-positive from any of our mothers enrolled in PMTCT.
“Since 2014, we have not had a child come back HIV-positive from any of our mothers enrolled in PMTCT,” says Sister Nora Pino, the director of St. Therèse, a Catholic hospital administered by Carmelite nuns.
This happy result is accomplished through the attention that pregnant women and mothers receive from HIV testing and counseling officers and social workers, who track each patient to ensure that she is adhering to treatment. It is also due to the peer support that they receive from other mothers who have stood in their shoes. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) supports all of these efforts both financially and through training.
One friend who has provided Fatoumata with loving advice and encouragement has been Solange Nguessan, an active member of the group since its formation in 2007. At that time, Solange brought her infant daughter to St. Therèse for immunization. Her nurse then counseled her about HIV and asked her if she would be tested. Solange agreed. She was devastated when the result came back positive. Her only consolation, the fact that her daughter was HIV-free.
That evening, Solange broke the news to her husband. He became angry and immediately left her and their two children, never to return. Solange was heartbroken and worried about her future. Solange’s health providers at St. Therèse encouraged her to join the newly formed HIV support group to gain strength from other mothers.
“At first, I didn’t want to go,” says Solange, “But the sisters kept pushing me, so I decided to try.”
With encouragement from the other group members, Solange faced her HIV status and regained hope for a healthy and happy life.
“I have learned a lot about how to handle myself and how to handle the disease,” says Solange. “I no longer see myself as sick. I see people who have a disease and die from it. That is not my situation. I am able to live positively and work as a successful businesswoman.”
“By the grace of god, I eventually met another man. The support group encouraged me to be truthful with him. So I told him about my HIV status and we came together to the hospital to get tested for HIV. He tested negative, but he still wanted to be with me. We are now married and very happy. It all depends upon the type of person you meet. We are hoping to have children, but so far that has not happened.”