Mother buddies provide hope in HIV

Photo: Chris Boyd/Tearfund

The joy of becoming pregnant again didn’t last long for Malawian mum Hawa. Something was amiss.

Illness was increasingly a problem and happiness was soon shown the door by worry.

Nagging away was the fear of HIV and the uncertainty of what that might mean for her unborn child.

‘I used to run away from HIV tests every time I visited hospital due to sickness,’ said Hawa, who lives in the Kachenga area. ‘I equated the results of the tests as a death sentence.

‘I was too worried that I was HIV positive and would pass the HIV to my unborn baby. I didn’t know what to do as there was no one in the village to give me advice.’

Looking at the prevalence of the condition - one in ten Malawians lives with HIV - it’s easier to understand why people are fearful, particularly those in poverty who struggle to afford healthcare.

That’s why Tearfund is supporting an initiative called Bwenzi la Amayi or Mother Buddies. These are Tearfund-trained volunteers drawn from local churches, themselves living with HIV, who support pregnant women.

Through regular visits, Hawa’s mother buddy encouraged her to start using antenatal services and gave her advice on how to stay healthy and about nutrition.

The healthiness, positivity and zest for life of her mother buddy made a big impression on Hawa and she decided to get an HIV test following counselling at a hospital. As Hawa feared, the results came back positive.

Active life

Telling her husband brought more bad news. He accused her of adultery and promptly left her and their other children.

Hawa’s mother buddy insured she was not left alone. Continued support led to Hawa having a successful birth and when the baby girl was tested for HIV, the results were negative.

Hawa said, ‘I’m very happy as I managed to deliver a negative HIV baby as a result of the support I got from the mother buddy. I am very sure that without the support of the mother buddy my baby would have been HIV positive since I would not have followed the instructions I got from the hospital, which has helped me not to pass the HIV virus to my baby.

‘Now I encourage every pregnant woman to go for antenatal services so she can get proper advice. In addition I tell them that they need to get an HIV test so that they know how to take care of themselves.’

To help Hawa support her family, Tearfund’s partner the Evangelical Association of Malawi has given her goats which she breeds and sells. In all 436 mother living with HIV are getting such support.

Vincent Moyo, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Malawi, said, ‘Mother Buddies are showing women that HIV need not be a death sentence and that, with the right guidance, they can fulfill their potential and lead full and active lives with their families.’