Nigeria: Mentor mothers' dedication to preventing mother-to-child Human Immunodeficiency Viruses (HIV) transmission in Kaduna State
Liatu dedicates her life to assisting HIV-positive mothers in surviving and giving birth to HIV-negative children
The Federal Government's Clinical Mentorship Programme, launched in 2021, supports HIV treatment and care service providers in an integrated approach
Laitu Elkana, a 46-year-old mother of four, has devoted her life to helping HIV-positive women not only survive but also give birth to children who are HIV-negative. As a mentor mother at Gwamna Awan Medical Hospital Kakuri in Kaduna State, Laitu is part of a group responsible for motivating pregnant HIV-positive women to begin and continue their treatment regimens. The group is a crucial component of the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV program in every ART facility in Kaduna, a state in Northern Nigeria.
Laitu tested positive for HIV in 2007 when she was pregnant with her second child. She recalls feeling like her life had come to an end, but after enrolling in the PMTCT program, she saw that there were people who were positive but living happy and productive lives. "The program really changed me, and now I'm determined to save as many lives as possible. I go from community to community and house to house looking for HIV-positive women and urging them to sign up for treatment," says Laitu.
Laitu has been a volunteer in the state's PMTCT program since 2008, supporting the program at General Hospital Barnawa and Kaduna's Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital before accepting the position of a Mentor Mother at Gwamna Awan General Hospital. Despite not receiving any financial support, Laitu has supported countless women over the years, ensuring they adhere to their clinic appointments, take their medication, and do everything necessary to remain hopeful and deliver an HIV-negative child.
For Laitu, this work is a lifetime commitment. She gave birth to three of her children while HIV-positive, and they are all negative.
So, for me, it's a lifetime commitment to ensure all pregnant mothers who test positive for HIV are enrolled for ARV drugs and monitored for adherence to the drugs up to delivery so that the child is not infected," Laitu said.
The Mentor Mothers' group has been revolutionized by the UNICEF-supported m-PIMA Analyzer Machine, which provides results for viral load and Early Infant Diagnosis for HIV in less than 70 minutes. According to Ibrahim Kamis, the medical laboratory technician at the hospital, the equipment has brought the testing system to the patient, saving on transportation costs, as opposed to sending samples to a lab.
The Federal Government's Clinical Mentorship Programme, launched in 2021, supports HIV treatment and care service providers in an integrated approach. Clinical mentors identify gaps and bridge those gaps while mentoring other teams in all ART implementing facilities. One of the State Clinical Mentors, Dr Ozigi Joseph, describes Mentor Mothers, especially those who are infected, as "Champions." They play critical roles in the PMTCT program and HIV response in the state.
"When we say they are champions, it means they are virally suppressed and have children of their own that are not affected. Based on their experience, it's easier for them to relate to other newly diagnosed women, encourage them, and bring them to take their drugs. These mentor mothers have passed through the same stages of depression and self-stigmatization that many newly diagnosed women go through and can help them overcome it," Joseph said.
The program has improved acceptance and reduced self-stigmatization in newly diagnosed clients, especially from the Antenatal Care (ANC), Joseph said. The dedication and commitment of Mentor Mothers like Laitu Elkana have undoubtedly played a significant role in achieving this progress.
Laitu's story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of hope. She has turned her own experience into a source of inspiration for other women, helping them navigate the many challenges life has thrown at them.
The mentor mothers have been crucial in organizing women and persuading traditional and religious leaders to assist the prevention of mother-to-child transmission in their wards and LGAs. When Kaduna State was leading in 2021 with more than 80% coverage, the mentor mothers intervention helped to reduce prevention of mother to child (PMTCT) in the state to less than 5%. The program is carried out with support from Viiv healthcare.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Nigeria.