February 7, 2012 | The Editors

Building support for mothers with HIV

Anyone who’s had a baby knows how crucial a support network can be. Friends and loved ones can help a mother sort through parenting wisdom, make healthy decisions for her child, and resist well-meaning but misguided purveyors of advice.

Smiling woman in bright pink blouse.
Carolyne Wesa Amboye. Photo: PATH.

In a village in western Kenya, Carolyne Wesa Amboye was pregnant with her fourth child when she found a network of like-minded women that could provide the support she needed.

Carolyne joined a mother-to-mother support group to learn about nutrition for her baby, including breastfeeding exclusively for the child’s first six months. But she also found other mothers like her: living healthy, positive lives with HIV.

In a society where people with HIV and AIDS are often stigmatized and isolated, Carolyne says the regular meetings have given her a sense of community and sisterhood that she’s never had before.

“I now have a feeling of belonging and hope and am no longer lonely,” she says. “This has been very helpful to me.”

Good nutrition for mom and baby

Carolyne’s support group is part of a PATH-led project to expand services for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in western Kenya, a densely populated area with a high rate of HIV. Through the project, PATH is expanding counseling and testing for HIV, strengthening health workers’ skills, and fostering community involvement through support groups and other means to enhance people’s health.

Carolyne’s group and others across the region meet regularly to talk about breastfeeding and nutrition for their children, how to handle pressure from their in-laws and others when making choices about their children’s health, and how women who are HIV positive can avoid transmitting the virus to their babies.

Women who have HIV and are pregnant, for example, are advised to feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months to reduce the risk of transmission and help their babies grow strong. The group helps women seek support from their husbands and mothers-in-law to breastfeed exclusively.

A family’s bright future

Though Carolyne joined the group to learn about good nutrition for her baby, she also gained knowledge about her own nutrition and health. For instance, she says she used to eat only porridge and eschewed fruits—including the region’s abundance of fresh guava—because she thought that’s what poor people ate. Now she includes fruits, vegetables, and other kinds of foods in her diet.

Carolyne is proud that her children are healthy—and have all tested negative for HIV. In her mother’s group, she has found the resources to help her baby get a healthy start, and the support to continue living healthily for herself and her family.

Read more stories about PATH’s work.

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