“No child should be born with HIV; no child should be an orphan because of HIV; no child should die due to lack of access to treatment.”
This famous 2010 quote by Ebube Sylvia Taylor, an 11-year-old Nigerian born free of HIV, speaks volumes. It was made during a meeting of world leaders in New York to share progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, by 2015. Today, the national plans for eliminating new HIV infections among infants and keeping their mothers alive are being entrenched. Mothers and their babies in Africa and the world at large are having greater access to optimal HIV prevention and treatment regimens based on latest guidelines.
Such is the story of Lillian Garile. Fourteen years after she got married to the love of her life, she became the proud mother of a healthy baby girl. It was a long wait but Lillian says it was worthwhile.
The 33-year-old child-minder who discovered she was living with HIV quite by accident few years back, has, however, made the best of what could be described as a bad situation.
The elder of two sisters, Lillian lost her parents at a tender age and had to look out for herself and younger sister.
During an encounter at the Witkoppen Health and Welfare Centre in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, Lillian, who hails from Zimbabwe, was initially downcast about the HIV positive diagnosis. Nevertheless, the woman whose mother was of South African descent, summoned courage and battled the odds to become mother of a healthy HIV-free baby.
Lillian is one of the several millions of Africans struggling to cope with the demands of low economic status and high incidence of HIV/AIDS among other challenges.
All the years she waited to have her own baby, Lillian never lost hope. She benefited from the Safer Conception Clinic initiative of the Witkoppen Centre and her baby is among the first set of babies to be delivered there although not the first to be conceived.
“I love children. I look after children for a living.
Even though I have just one biological child of my own, I can say I have many children because I look after so many of them. I have been doing so for almost eight years,” she remarked. Witkoppen is an NGO operating at grassroots level to provide preventive and curative to deal with the social determinants of disease and decrease the high maternal and newborn mortality in the country. “I was registered for antenatal at 16 weeks. I come here for post natal services although. It’s a distance from the hospital to where I stay, but I choose to come here even though it cost me about 22 Rands by taxi.
“I’ve decided to stay at home and look after my daughter until she is at least one year old. Certainly I would love to go back to looking after children again because that is my first love—children. I was trained professionally to look after them. For now, my husband takes care of all my needs.” Before the birth of her baby, Lillian had an ectopic pregnancy. “It was traumatic. I had a surgery afterwards and the doctors told me that now I had only one Fallopian tube. But I was assured it was still enough for me to have all the babies I wish to have.” Five months later her wish came true when she became pregnant again. “I love this hospital. I love the staff that I have met here. I chose this because of the skills available here especially since Ai had the experience with the ectopic. A neighbour recommended this place and it’s been wonderful.”
Lillian is usually up by 4 am to get herself and baby ready so as to be at the clinic by 5am. “There is usually a long queue and even though I get here early, it’s common to find several people already waiting. We often stay for some time because we need to see many healthcare providers one after the other. Things like family planning and other care issues are taken care of. Although on ARVs, Lillian is not planning to have more babies. “I’ve had enough. I’m satisfied with just one. She is healthy and that is all I ask for,” she noted.
Indeed, the world has an unprecedented opportunity to make new HIV infections among
children become history. In 2009, 370 000 children became newly infected with HIV globally and an estimated 42 000 – 60 000 pregnant women died because of HIV. In contrast, in high-income countries the number of new HIV infections among children and maternal and child deaths due to HIV was virtually zero. In low and middle-income countries, still too few women are receiving HIV prevention and treatment services to protect themselves or their children.
In the bid to change this inequity, stopping new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive is a task to be done.
There is global consensus that the world must strive towards elimination of new HIV
infections among children by 2015 and keep mothers and children living with HIV alive.
Many low and middle-income countries have already moved significantly towards
achieving these goals. Lillian and her baby are the evidence of this march towards “getting to Zero” strategy. It outlines a global effort to reach the “three zeros” of HIV/AIDS — zero new deaths, zero new infections, and zero discrimination.