In Nigeria’s Bayelsa State, awareness about HIV and AIDS is improving, but many people are still hesitant to be tested, including pregnant women. They make up a critical demographic because proper intervention often can prevent transmission from an HIV-positive mother to her unborn baby.
This is exactly why Pact’s PROMOT II project, funded by Chevron, targets pregnant women in Nigeria, where new HIV infection rates remain high. It can be an uphill battle, requiring patience, empathy and trust from local communities.
Hanna Ogaku, a community health officer and mentor with PROMOT II, knew this when she met Firstlady Stephen, who was 18, pregnant and had recently dropped out of high school. Hanna and a group of other PROMOT II mentors had gone to Firstlady’s community in Bayelsa’s Southern Ijaw LGA to share information with women and encourage them to get tested.
Firstlady hadn’t gotten any prenatal care since finding out she was pregnant, and she wasn’t especially interested. But she chatted with Hanna, who suggested she take an HIV test. Firstlady agreed, and during a mobile testing event organized by PROMOT II, she found out she was positive. The news was devastating. What about her baby?
“I nearly had a heart attack when they told me that the test showed I was HIV-positive,” Firstlady recalls.
Luckily, Hanna was there for her. She arranged for a second test to confirm Firstlady’s diagnosis and help her accept it. With the assistance of a referral team and a PROMOT II mentor at a local health center, Hanna then supported Firstlady as she began prenatal care and prevention-of-mother-to-child-transmission services. Firstlady also enrolled in nutritional and adherence counseling through PROMOT II to make sure she consistently took medication that was helping her stay healthy and, hopefully, preventing HIV in her baby.
Despite efforts by the PROMOT II team, the father of Firstlady’s baby refused to believe her diagnosis or get tested for HIV himself. But Firstlady, wanting to take the best care of her baby that she could, was undeterred. She stayed on treatment. A few months later, she delivered a baby boy, who she named Igodo Daniel.
Soon it was time for Igodo to be given an early-infant diagnosis HIV test. Just as she had with her own test, Firstlady found herself nervously waiting for a result.
This time, the news was what she hoped for: Her baby’s test was negative.
That wasn’t where PROMOT II parted ways with Firstlady and Igodo. To maintain her own health and to support Igodo and keep him healthy, Firstlady needed an income, but her options were few. Although she was hesitant at first, her PROMOT II mentor and a project technical officer persuaded Firstlady to join a local WORTH group.
A women’s empowerment program that Pact uses around the world, WORTH brings together groups of women and older girls to save money, access credit and start small businesses. Besides helping groups start their own microbanks, WORTH provides women with literacy, numeracy and entrepreneurship training. Chevron and Pact decided to add a WORTH component to PROMOT II to help women overcome what many identified as a key barrier to getting proper health care: a lack of money to pay for it.
Today, Firstlady is attending WORTH group meetings, saving money and making plans to start a small business.