For a pregnant woman, it takes courage to visit Epworth Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe. Many must travel long distances to get there, but that is not the only reason. They come to the clinic to learn their HIV status or to receive antiretroviral (ARV) medication, and when they first arrive, many of the women have little hope of giving birth to a healthy child. Once they get there, however, they learn that although they have HIV, they do not need to pass it to their children.
I visited the clinic to learn how USAID is supporting the delivery of high-quality HIV/AIDS services in Zimbabwe.
In the waiting room, I spoke with Rosemary, a 40-year-old, HIV-positive mother who was holding an 8-month-old baby. Rosemary came to the clinic for the first time several years ago when her husband’s health began to deteriorate and she suspected that they might both be HIV-positive. She was right; she tested positive for HIV and began ARV treatment several weeks later. While I was talking with Rosemary, her baby sleepily opened her eyes and chewed her blanket. She was born healthy and HIV-free.
The prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS program at Epworth clinic started in 2001. USAID provides infant HIV test kits and ARVs to many clinics throughout Zimbabwe, including Epworth. USAID’s partner, the Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID), provides training and supervision to the health-care workers in the clinic. With support from USAID, this local organization is quickly increasing its ability to better address the HIV-AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe.
Epworth clinic sees about 80 pregnant women and nursing mothers each day. When they first arrive at the clinic, they are tested for HIV and educated about family planning. As a result of the support the clinic has received from USAID, through OPHID, the number of HIV-positive babies has gone down significantly. Today, 98 percent of babies that are part of the program test negative.
When I talked with the clinic’s nurses, they told me, “If we didn’t have the USAID program, 98 percent of our patient’s babies would be HIV positive.” They also acknowledged that there would be a significant population decline.
As my visit came to a close, I asked Rosemary what advice she would give to other pregnant women. “Every woman should know her HIV status,” she said. She has found the courage to tell some of her friends her status, and strongly encourages them to get tested for their entire family’s benefit.
Visit OPHID for more information about OPHID.
Learn more about USAID’s work in Zimbabwe.