“'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11
I would like to introduce you to Grace Mankunba, a happily married young woman who is HIV positive. With her is her lovely 12-month-old, very healthy daughter, Elsa, who is HIV negative. We can celebrate this moment because of the wonderful care Grace and Elsa are receiving at the Lifeline Malawi Health Centre.
Globally, an estimated 1.3 million women and girls living with HIV become pregnant each year. An HIV-positive mother can transmit HIV to her baby at any time during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. This is a deadly serious issue because without antiretroviral therapy, there is a 20 to 45 per cent risk of an HIV positive mother passing the infection on to their unborn child, and a 16 per cent chance of passing it on to their infant through breastfeeding.
Preventing Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is one of the proactive measures that we take at the Lifeline Malawi Health Centre to transforms a life from one of probable illness to one with hope and a future. Since this program was introduced at Lifeline Malawi in 2008, when the Rosetree Maternity Unit was built, Lifeline Malawi has not had one vertical transmission of HIV from a positive mother to her baby.
What does this PMTCT program involve?
First, it is important for a mother to know her status. All pregnant mothers attending Lifeline Malawi prenatal clinics are tested for HIV. If they are positive, they start on the life-giving antiretroviral medicine. The sooner the mother starts the medicine, the better it is for her and her baby’s health.
These prescribed medicines continue throughout the pregnancy and during childbirth. The baby also is given antiretroviral medicine for the first 4 to 6 weeks of its life. Taking antiretrovirals will be a lifelong treatment for the mother.
After the birth, it is important for the moms and their babies to attend follow-up assessment clinics at LM. This is how I met Grace and Elsa as they are part of a Mother Infant Pairing (MIP). During these visits, the baby is tested for HIV at six, 12, and 24 months of age to check that the child status remains negative. At two years of age, and when the baby is weaned, the child is considered HIV negative and leaves the PMTCT program as another success story for Lifeline Malawi!
Thank you to all our donors who help support Lifeline Malawi in maintaining our facility, in training and paying our wonderful staff, and in giving a child like Elsa a really excellent start to a normal, healthy and happy life.