After tragedy, treatment and hope for an HIV-positive mother in Tanzania

May 9, 2017

Bi Mariam Masasi Willison had prepared to be a mom.

Married and living in Geita, in northwestern Tanzania, the big day came in 2010. Shortly after she delivered, though, her newborn fell sick and died.

Around the same time, Mariam enrolled in Pact’s Pamoja Tuwalee program, an integrated development effort funded by USAID that between 2010 and 2016 reached more than 350,000 vulnerable Tanzanian children and caregivers with key health, nutrition, education, livelihoods and protection services. When a Pamoja Tuwalee caseworker learned that Mariam’s baby had died, the caseworker suggested she be tested for HIV.

The results hit Mariam hard: She was HIV-positive. The disease was likely responsible for her infant’s death.

Five years later, in 2015, Mariam became pregnant again. A Pamoja Tuwalee caseworker named Amina Maonyesho visited Mariam at her home and advised her to go as quickly as possible to a local clinic.

“Amina gave advice to both of us, me and my husband,” Mariam explains. “After she left our home, we discussed about the advice and decided to go to the hospital the following day. At the hospital, we received knowledge on [anti-retroviral therapy] and how we could prevent our baby from contracting HIV.”

Indeed, staff at the hospital started Mariam on medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the womb. They also advised her to deliver her baby at a health facility and instructed her that when she started to feel labor pain, she should immediately go to the hospital for medication.

With Amina’s support during home visits, Mariam followed the instructions.

“I felt good and comfortable talking to Amina about health because she is someone I know and trust,” Mariam says. “She gave me advice while cracking jokes here and there, which made the talks easy and comfortable.”

Soon, Mariam’s daughter, who she named Elizabeth, arrived. After the birth, health workers gave Mariam medication to take for six months to prevent HIV transmission while Elizabeth breastfed, after which Mariam was instructed to stop breastfeeding.

“When I attended [a clinic] class with my husband, they told us if we followed treatment instructions, I will give birth to a child free from HIV infection,” Mariam recalls. “I didn’t want to lose the baby as the other one, so the instruction wasn’t hard for me to follow.”

Today, Mariam is taking part in Pact’s Kizazi Kipya program, a follow-up effort to Pamoja Tuwalee with similar interventions that will last through 2021.

Elizabeth, who is HIV-free, recently turned 1.

“I plan to have more children,” says Mariam, who loves to talk about her daugther. 

"My child likes juice," she says. "You see she cried for your juice and she finished all the juice you gave her, and still she needs more.”


Lead photo: Pamoja Tuwalee beneficiaries gather for a WORTH group meeting.