Article written

  • on 20.10.2010
  • at 08:00 AM
  • by Staff

Kenya: more men preventing HIV Transmission to children 0

VIHIGA, Western Kenya – Pastor Joseph Muhembeli and his wife, Beatrice, queue at the Vihiga health centre with their six-month-old daughter for their prevention of mother-to-child treatment (PMTCT). But before long, as per the clinic’s policy, the couple are whisked to the front of the line – all because Muhembeli has accompanied his wife for the treatment.

The couple tested HIV-positive four years ago. But thanks to the Muhembeli’s involvement with the PMTCT programme, their six-month-old daughter has tested HIV-negative.

“For two years now, we have been encouraging male participation in the prevention of mother-to-child treatment of HIV. And that is why we give special treatment to all men who accompany their wives to either pre- or postnatal clinics,” said Martha Opisa, the nurse in charge at the health centre.

Opisa said the Vihiga health centre used to receive about 40 clients a month seeking PMTCT services before men got actively involved in the pre- and postnatal clinics. “But now we now receive between 60 and 70 clients per month, almost doubling the original figure,” she said.

The male clinics are part of Zingatia Maisha programme (Swahili for – ‘carefully consider life’ or ‘positive action’) funded by GlaxoSmithKline in conjunction with the Kenyan ministries of public health and medical services. The programme also strengthens links between community HIV support groups and government health facilities.

The initiative was started in 2008 and the success of the male clinics, where men are educated on different health issues, has resulted in the change of cultural male beliefs. The male clinics have had an impact in Muhembeli’s area, a region where traditionally men believed that attending pre- and postnatal clinics was purely the duty of their wives. Now Muhembeli is just one of hundreds of men who are determined to change this belief.

It was through one such male clinic that Muhembeli and his wife discovered their HIV status. “Through lessons from the clinic, encouragement by support group members and other experts, we have been able to have two HIV-negative children,” he said. The couple have another HIV-negative daughter, aged three.

“During the (male) clinics, we also offer free counselling and testing of HIV to those who are willing. We screen for any other sexually transmitted infection including tuberculosis and we offer treatment of any other disease the client may be suffering from,” said Opisa. The clinics also have antenatal lessons on baby care, family planning, hygiene, HIV infection and prevention among others.

Those who have been found to be HIV-positive are referred to a support group where they learn how to live positively and engage in income-generating activities. HIV-negative individuals have their own support group through which they communicate the importance of male clinics to the community.

But in Muhembeli’s case his involvement with the male clinic began when his wife convinced him to attend. “It was not an easy decision. But my wife insisted to a point that I had to listen to her,” said Muhembeli. But, he added, not all men listened to their wives and hence the male clinics were important.

He said he found that through the Zingatia Maisha programme, men encouraged other men to attend pre- and postnatal clinics with their wives. It was successful, Muhembeli said, because men ‘listen to other men’ rather than their wives or women.

According to Opisa, it is easier to counsel a couple together than just the wife alone. “When we counsel couples, it is easier to disclose their status while they are together than having one partner to disclose to the other. If they are reactive, it is also easy to enrol them on a PMTCT program,” she said.

The programme, which is implemented by the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF), the African Medical Research Foundation, and the National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, has helped link 15,000 people living with HIV from Kenya’s Eastern and Western Provinces to support groups.

According to Dr. Lucy Matu, a paediatric expert and the EGPAF Technical Advisor on PMTCT, 40 percent of HIV-positive women pass the virus onto their children in cases where there is no intervention. “But with the intervention of single dose Nevirapine, we have observed that transmission to babies is cut by half,” she said.

Not only have the male clinics meant that Beatrice Muhembeli’s daughters are HIV-negative; she said the intervention improved the couple’s life in other ways as well. “After we learned how to live positively with the disease, life has never been the same. He loves me like never before, he escorts me to the clinic every time, and we remind each other of when we should be taking our drugs. In fact, he is my treatment buddy,” she said.

By Isaiah Esipisu Ips Africa

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi