Picture Above: Comfort O. counseling a client at a Health Facility in Abuja.
Comfort O. had a bumpy journey to hope and health after discovering her HIV positive status in an ante natal clinic in 2008. However, with the intervention of the HIV program implemented by Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) with financial support from PEPFAR through US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she is now living a healthy life with two HIV free children.
She is determined to ease the journey through pregnancy to delivery of HIV free babies for other pregnant women living with HIV. The IHVN mentor mother model is helping her to live out this dream.
When Comfort walked into a health facility for antenatal services 14 years ago, she did not know her HIV status until the test result came out positive.
“I felt very sad, I wanted to kill myself. I did not know that there were other people living with HIV. I was depressed. I did not let anyone know about my status, not even my husband,” she says.
She tried to adhere to the HIV medication and the pockets of counsel she received from health care workers at the hospital but doing this alone was not successful because she had to hide her medications from even her family.
“I was going through pain, there was nobody to share my problem with. I tried my best to keep my baby safe but she was HIV positive and had to be admitted. In the hospital, while seeking the attention of a nurse, she accused me of infecting my child with HIV in the presence of many people in the hospital ward. I lost hope and planned to commit suicide. I walked into the road in front of the hospital praying for a vehicle to hit me. I shed tears. Luckily, no vehicle passed by at that time. I summoned courage and went to another hospital,” she says.
Comfort lost her baby at six months.
She found help and support when she became pregnant again in 2011. She received prevention of mother-to-child transmission services in an IHVN supported hospital.
“When I registered for antenatal at General Hospital Karshi, they welcomed me, counseled me, and told me what to do at every step. The matron here counseled me to join the mother-to-mother support group. I saw other pregnant and nursing mothers. They guided me on how to take my medications through my pregnancy, delivery and even in taking care of my baby.”
Comfort, who is the second wife of three wives, also got support from her husband when she disclosed her status to him.
“Even when the other wife spread the news about my status to others including my in-laws, they did not react harshly. My husband is not HIV positive; he is the reason why I am still taking my HIV medications. He is kind to me,” Comfort says.
It is this support and kindness that Comfort is extending to others as a mentor mother in the same hospital where she had received care.
“I don’t want other women to go through what I went through with the baby I lost in 2009. I counsel women using myself as an example. I now have two HIV free children after receiving prevention of mother-to-child transmission services.
I tell pregnant women that they should adhere to medications to keep their babies HIV free,” she says.
She also guides them on the tests to do for themselves and for their babies and when to do these tests. She encourages them to exclusively breastfeed their babies for one year.
Comfort says she remains grateful for the free medications she receives, her HIV free children as well as the knowledge she has gained as a mentor mother.
“As a mentor mother, I make sure that pregnant women and their children are healthy. I start my work from when a woman comes to the antenatal clinic and gets tested for HIV. If the test result is positive, I guide them to make sure they enroll for prevention of mother-to-child transmission services,” she explains.
Comfort mentors pregnant women living with HIV till their children are two years old. She follows up with them to remind them of hospital appointments. Sometimes, she even visits them in their homes.
“My greatest joy is when children are HIV free and the mothers are healthy. I am happy to see those who contemplated committing suicide like me looking well, smiling. I don’t want the women I have mentored and the women I am currently mentoring to go through what I went through. I don’t want any HIV positive child to be born in this hospital. I feel like my work as a mentor mother is service to humanity and to God. That is what motivates me to do this work,” she says.
In General Hospital Karshi and other IHVN supported facilities in the Federal Capital Territory, Nasarawa, Katsina and Rivers state, 5,258 women accessed PMTCT services between September 2021 and October 2022.
“All of the women who enrolled in the PMTCT program had HIV free children.” IHVN Senior Program Officer, Prevention Care and Treatment, Dr Victoria Igbinomwanhia says.
“The Institute supports about 280 facilities with PMTCT services and 150 mentor mothers in four states to guide pregnant women through the journey from pregnancy to delivery of HIV free babies.
“The mentor mother model has helped many HIV positive pregnant women to adhere to medications and remain in treatment resulting to HIV free babies,” she says.