A national charity is marking this week’s annual conference of the Children’s HIV Association [CHIVA] by publishing the moving testimonies of mothers infected with HIV.
Saving Lives campaigns for greater general awareness of HIV and HIV testing. One in four of those with HIV in the UK do not know they have been infected, and this means they cannot access today’s life-saving treatment – and may be passing on the infection.
“The people who die of HIV in this country today are those who are diagnosed late,” says Dr Steve Taylor, the charity’s Medical Director. “We can save those lives, and prevent new infections, by increasing the number of people we test and diagnose early. The great thing about our positive mothers is that they show people who may be scared of testing that it’s possible to live healthy long lives even when ith HIV.”
The annual CHIVA conference, to be held this year in Birmingham, is a yearly meeting for people providing health care for children and young people with HIV. At the conference Saving Lives will display the stories of several mothers whose children are living with, or affected by HIV.
“When I found out that my little boy was positive, the bottom fell out of my world,” says one of the mums. “I felt sick and wept until there were no more tears. I felt responsible for my baby’s condition – he had cried a lot as a baby and I wondered if all along it had been his way of struggling to let me know something was wrong.”
The stories have been compiled by Yvonne Vaughan-Gordon, a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital. “We have more than a hundred mums and children who attend the family clinic at Heartlands, and those who have spoken up are very brave,” she says. “Despite the improvements in treatment and testing, there’s still a lot of stigma around HIV – these stories should help Saving Lives fight that prejudice.”
Memory Sachikonye, a mother from Zimbabwe who now lives and works in the UK, is adamant about the importance of testing for HIV: “I always tell people that there’s not other way: if you feel unwell, or if you think you might be at risk, get tested. If you have had sex without a condom, you’re at risk.”
Dr Steven Welch, the Chair of CHIVA and a Saving Lives advocate, added: “With modern treatment we can now almost completely prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. However, that is only true if we know whether the woman is HIV positive before they give birth. We need to prevent women presenting late to maternity units without being tested, as this represents the highest risk of transmission to the baby. The more men and women that can be diagnosed early in the community the fewer children will be born with HIV.
“These personal accounts are the kinds of stories we hear at our children’s HIV service at Birmingham Heartlands every week. It is very brave of these mums to share their thoughts – we hope their voices will be heard and make a difference.”