From herbal medicine to antiretrovial therapy: An HIV-positive mother and baby get the care they need

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From herbal medicine to antiretrovial therapy: An HIV-positive mother and baby get the care they need

By Lena Renju and Suleiman Masudi

Fazila, a 31-year-old mother from Masasi, Tanzania, was pregnant with her fourth child when she learned she was HIV-positive. The revelation was almost too much for her to bear. She made sense of it the best way she knew how: She blamed her diagnosis on misfortune, witchcraft and the work of bad spirits, a belief that is common here.

Lacking knowledge about HIV causes and treatment, Fazila dropped out of her antenatal care visits and stopped taking her antiretroviral therapy medication, or ART. Instead she sought help from a traditional healer and began using herbal medicines. Last February, her son Jamal was born. He tested positive for HIV, and soon he and Fazila both became seriously ill with opportunistic diseases. Still, Fazila continued to take only herbal medicine. 

Just when Fazila and Jamal needed it most, Kizazi Kipya entered their lives. With funding from USAID/PEPFAR, Pact began implementing Kizazi Kipya, or “New Generation,” across Tanzania in 2016. The project works to improve the lives of HIV-exposed infants and their mothers by helping them overcome barriers to HIV services, and by improving access to comprehensive services for their health, nutrition, education, protection, livelihood development and psycho-social wellbeing.

Kikundi Mwavuli Masasi, or KIMAS, is the project’s local civil society organization partner. Together with Tanzania’s government, KIMAS trains and supervises community case workers to identify and manage cases like Fazila’s. The case workers track the children of HIV-positive mothers to link them to testing and treatment.

Case worker Bernadetha Charles first learned about Fazila from the staff of a testing clinic she visited. The clinic helped connect Bernadetha and Fazila, and soon Fazila and Jamal were enrolled in Kizazi Kipya. 

Bernadetha accompanied Fazila and her baby to the local health facility, where they received clinical and laboratory services, and Fazila restarted ART. Her other three children were tested and confirmed to be HIV-negative. Initially, Fazila was reluctant to accept HIV retesting for Jamal, but through persistent follow-up and counseling, she agreed to a second, confirmatory test. Jamal, who was already on ART, was diagnosed with severe malnutrition and treated with therapeutic milk products. 

A year later, Fazila and Jamal’s health has improved considerably. They continue to take ART.  

“I thank God and I thank my case workers for lifting me from the darkness and enlightening me to see sense and to obtain authentic services that have improved my health and made me who I am today,” Fazila says.

 

Fazila and Jamal’s real names are not used in this story for the sake of their privacy.

Photo: Fazila and Jamal take part in a supportive session with a KIMAS health and HIV officer.

 

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