Hubert and Jeanne Mwangaza have both been HIV-positive since they married and started a family together years ago. Now, they have three children, and all of them are HIV-free.
Is it a medical miracle? Hardly.
Hubert and Jeanne’s commitment to one another has made a profound impact on the health of their three daughters long before their children were even born. A father’s involvement in his wife’s prenatal care may not seem relevant in preventing HIV transmission from mother to baby, but evidence taken in sub-Sahara African nations — where rates of HIV infection remain disproportionately high — tell a different story.
In a study conducted between 1999 and 2005, services that promoted male partner involvement in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV reduced the risks of conveyance by 40 percent when compared to no involvement from male partners, as Aidsmap reported. The study noted that attentive, supportive fathers may be an untapped resource in HIV-transmission prevention in underserved regions of the world.
“Fathers, and supportive partners, cannot be underestimated in the effort to eliminate HIV transmission from mothers to their babies,” Dr. Chewe Luo, UNICEF Senior HIV and AIDS Advisor, said in a statement.
In the same year that Witness and Edward married, they were also diagnosed with HIV. “We wanted to show our desire to continue enjoying life despite our status,” Edward said of his purchase of a bicycle the couple uses to get to a health care center. Witness has a 4-year-old daughter who is HIV-free thanks to the support of Edward and access to programs that have prevented HIV transmission during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Courtesy: UNICEF
In communities of increased HIV prevalence, like where Hubert and Jeanne live in Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s standard for pregnant women to be tested for the virus, as mothers diagnosed and treated early for HIV have better prospects of giving birth to HIV-free children. According to UNICEF, when men are tested alongside their pregnant partners, it reduces stigma of the virus and strengthens male understanding of the child-bearing process. If fathers are in-the-know regarding early HIV treatment, their female partners are more likely to stay committed to a healthy pregnancy. Jeanne, for example, took a pill daily as part of her antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy, and will continue to do so until she’s through with breastfeeding.
Fortunately, tests are continuing to better the prospects for HIV-positive expecting parents to have HIV-free children. And according to the World Health Organization, the percentage of pregnant women who received an HIV test in low-and-middle income African countries increased from just 8 percent in 2005 to 44 percent in 2012.
“I was afraid when I had my first daughter,” Hubert said in a statement. “But with her and my second born, I gained hope and became sure that if we continue following the advice we were given, it’s going to be OK and my child will be born HIV-free.”
To learn more and take action against HIV transmission in Africa, visit UNICEF’s website.