Idowu Kayode had lost six pregnancies. Each time a miscarriage occurred, it was usually with a lot of blood loss. She recalls that in 2002 when she discovered her HIV positive status, she had given up on life. Her husband took her to several hospitals, clinics, churches and prayer houses.
People even accused her of being a witch (“mammy water” or “Ogbanje”) who gives up all her children to evil spirits. At that time, the PEPFAR program had not commenced. She says that, “we had sold all we had seeking for treatment. We had to borrow money to pay for drugs and viral load and CD4 test, which was only available in the research center, located about 45 kilometers away. I was as thin as a rope.”
That phase of her life is now like a faraway dream. In 2005, she received prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) services and gave birth to her first baby, a boy. “Many people were shocked. In fact, they had to come to the hospital to see the baby or else they would have thought that I adopted him,” she says. “I breast fed him and he was so plump and healthy. All those who had gossiped about didn’t know what else to say,” she adds.
Today, Idowu still takes doubting Thomas’s to her house to see her three children. This time, they are women living with HIV who do not believe that it is possible to give birth to HIV negative children. “I even have to show some of them the hospital cards of my children for them to believe that I once passed through PMTCT and that it works.”
Idowu is now a mentor mother in University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada (UATH). Though she only has high school education, she has the experience. She knows how to assure women who are being stigmatized and wonder if they can have negative children. One of the women she has mentored at the hospital is quick to testify that, “Idowu stayed with me all the while I was in the hospital, caring for my baby.”
Idowu and other mentor mothers in UATH say that they are excited to extend help to others who are now in their shoes. They are happy that since 2010, more women have negative babies. “We attend to four to five women every day. We counsel them, we call them, and they also call us. They are like family to us. We stay with them through antenatal, labour and delivery and care for their babies through EID as early as six weeks, and up to the time the babies are eighteen months. We encourage them to disclose to their partners, breast feed their babies and take their drugs. When they leave here, they tell others to come to this hospital because they feel loved here,” they say. They have provided over 400 women with this peer support at the hospital.
With funding from PEPFAR through Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) supports mentor mothers. These women have passed through PMTCT. They know where the shoe pinches and are able to support other women living with HIV and the women feel free to share their worries with them because they trust them.