December 1, 2017

In Tanzania, Pact Helps HIV-Positive Mothers Raise Children Free of Disease

By Megan Guilfoyle

In Gieta, a town in Northwest Tanzania, Bi Mariam Masasi Willison and her husband recently celebrated their healthy daughter Elizabeth’s first birthday — a time of joy, but also relief for the new parents.

A few years ago, Mariam gave birth to a child who fell ill shortly after birth and passed away. Luckily, this time around, things went differently — with some help from Pact and USAID.

In preparation for motherhood, Mariam joined Pact’s Pamoja Tuwalee program, a six-year public-private partnership funded by USAID that worked to improve the lives of orphans and vulnerable children as well as their caregivers.

The Pamoja Tuwalee program — which when translated means “Let’s Bring Children Up Together” — aims to help meet the basic needs of at-risk children and empower households to better protect, care, and provide for their families.

Shortly after Mariam enrolled in the program, she was assigned a Pamoja Tuwalee caseworker. These caseworkers are at the heart of this comprehensive program — working directly with individual households to assess areas of need and provide training in everything from literacy, to parenting, to health, and nutrition.

Upon hearing about Mariam’s difficult delivery and the death of her newborn, the program caseworker strongly urged her to get tested for HIV. Her results were shocking. She tested positive for HIV and later learned that her diagnosis was likely the cause of her firstborn’s death.

Though the news of Mariam’s diagnosis was painful and unfortunate for her family, getting tested made all the difference just five years later.

Determined to have a safe delivery and a healthy baby the second time around, Mariam talked with Amina Maonyesho, her caseworker, about her diagnosis and shared the news that she was expecting.

Amina advised Mariam and her husband to go to the local clinic, where they learned about antiretroviral medications that could prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and protect their baby from contracting HIV.

Mariam and her husband were thrilled.

“When I attended [a clinic] class with my husband, they told us if we followed treatment instructions, I will give birth to a child free from HIV infection,” Mariam said. “I didn’t want to lose the baby as the other one, so the instruction wasn’t hard for me to follow.”

With the support of her caseworker, local clinic classes, and the necessary antiretroviral medication, Mariam followed her treatment plan and gave birth to a healthy, HIV-free infant.

And the impact doesn’t stop there. In just 6 years, the Pamoja Tuwalee program reached more than 350,000 at-risk kids and their caregivers with critical health, nutrition, education, economic empowerment, and protective services. Specifically, over 70,000 Tanzanians were helped through nutrition and food efforts, more than 50,000 parents increased their income thanks to economic development efforts, and 10,000 people were able to access HIV testing.

Because of Pact’s Pamoja Tuwalee program and funding from the U.S. government, Elizabeth just recently celebrated her first birthday HIV-free. And Mariam, now armed with the knowledge of her diagnosis and treatment opportunities, plans to someday grow her family even larger.

This story was original published here.

image photo credit: USAID Tanzania