The HIV-positive mother of a newborn passes the first six months of her baby’s life in painful hope. Every moment she frets: is my baby positive or negative?
The situation is made even worse, as she must also worry whether testing kits and early testing services will be available for her baby. In spite of its commitments, the Government of India’s HIV programme experiences routine stock-outs of testing supplies and medicines necessary to provide Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) services.
Delays in testing can contribute to the vulnerability of HIV-positive newborns. It is also a difficult and challenging situation for HIV-positive mothers who have just delivered but are still waiting on testing to learn the HIV status for their babies. It affects their physical and mental health and can lead to depression in both parents.
Some pregnant women living with HIV struggle to link with the government programme that provides services to prevent parent-to-child transmission. Many face self-stigma after an HIV-positive diagnosis, often during their pregnancies. Many face discrimination in accessing services at health clinics too. Staff at the Care & Support Centres (CSCs) run under Alliance India’s Vihaan programme work to provide support to these women and encourage their husbands and partners to test as well.
According to government data, 12,008 pregnant women were found HIV-positive (NACO 2013-14 Annual Report). Of them, only 10,085 received nevirapine in mother-baby pairs. Virtually all of these deliveries took place in an institution. The remaining 1,923 positive mothers delivered HIV-exposed babies at home and did not receive the life-saving drug. Why are we closing our eyes and turning our faces away from a problem that can be solved?
India has the third largest HIV burden in the world, yet sometimes it seems we’ve forgotten about the epidemic’s relentlessness. For these mothers and their babies, we know what needs to be done, what essential steps must take place. EID services are essential to the futures of both parent and child.
Our future generations must rely on us, but how can we fulfil our promises to them? Without testing kits and medicines and facing stigma and discrimination at clinics, too many women and babies who need these services are falling through the cracks.
But still we must have a little hope.
The author of this post, Mona Balani, is a Programme Officer: Care & Support at India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi.
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