China Focus: HIV-positive moms assisted for healthy newborns

December 2, 2015 6:54 am 

By Bai Xu

YINING, Xinjiang, Dec. 1 (PNA/Xinhua) — Halisa (not her real name) still thinks of her aborted fetus. "It was a boy," she says in a low, sad voice, tears in eyes.

If not for her HIV/AIDS, the 33-year-old Uygur woman would have been happily living with her ex-husband, not in fear that her condition might be revealed to others and not choosing to have an abortion against their cultural tradition.

She was found HIV positive in a routine health check in 2008.

"My ex-husband would stay at least five meters away from me, for fear of being infected," she said. He demanded a divorce and persuaded her to abort.

"I had been pregnant for eight months," Halisa said. She felt ill after the abortion. What was worse, her eldest daughter was also found HIV positive.

Three years later, Halisa married again, with another HIV carrier. In 2013, she got pregnant again.

At first, she didn't want to have the baby out of concern it may not be healthy. She went to a clinic, only to find she didn't have enough money for an abortion. Her husband wanted her to keep the baby.

Medical workers in Halisa's village approached her to offer help. A health worker named Saniya gave her medicine that would prevent her baby from getting transmitted.

"She also told me to deliver in the hospital and not to breastfeed the baby," Halisa said.

Halisa's second child is now two years old, healthy and strong. She is pregnant again.

"Prenatal medicine, cesarean and artificial feeding can help lower the mother-to-child transmission rate significantly from around one third to 6 percent," Saniya said.

Since the first case of HIV/AIDS was discovered in the 1980s, china has reported 575,000 HIV carriers and AIDS patients as of the end of October, and 177,000 deaths. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the number of HIV-positive people in china could account for 0.06 percent of China's total population.

Sex is a main channel of transmission. About 91.5 percent of the cases reported between January and October 2014 were transmissions through sex.

Drug users also spread the virus to their spouses, then, possibly, to their children. In 2014, 1.1 percent of new cases were from mothers to children.

"HIV/AIDS poses a great threat to babies," said Xu Wenqing, a specialist at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Without proper medical treatment, half of the infected babies won't live for two years. Even when they grow up, they have to face more challenges, including illness and prejudice."

To help children avoid contracting the virus from their mothers, the UNICEF in 2001 introduced HIV prevention measures to reduce mother-to-child transmissions. Each year, among 5,000 to 6,000 HIV-positive pregnant women in China, only around 300 give the virus to their children.

However, not all pregnant women are as cooperative as Halisa is.

Saniya recalls sitting outside a local hospital with Aynur (not her real name) from dawn to dusk, trying to convince the 31-year-old woman to take preventive measures for her baby.

Aynur was found HIV positive in June 2008 in a health check. Her husband, a drug dealer, infected her.

Saniya called her several times till Aynur agreed not to abort and take preventative measures.

The new mother was nervous when her baby had his first health check. "I stared at the clock," she said. "The test took an hour, but it was like ten hours." The baby was healthy.

Thanks to the measures, more and more HIV-positive mothers are giving birth to healthy babies.

"None of the babies born in 2014 were HIV positive," said Rizyan, head of the health care center for women and children of Yining City.

To find HIV-positive pregnant women in a timely manner, local health authorities travel to markets and visit villagers' homes.

Peer education has also proved an effective method. Aynur became one of the educators after she gave birth to her baby.

"It was our tradition to deliver at home, because women's bodies shouldn't be seen and blood should not be shed outside," she said. "Many mothers also worry the medicine preventing mother-to-child transmission could have side effects that are bad for newborns."

Health workers and the UNICEF don't stop after the babies are born. They monitor such newborns, give them medicine and take them for free health checks. Efforts are also made for benefits of the mothers, including plans to provide medical treatment and improve living conditions.

They loaned one young mother 3,000 yuan (about USD469.2) so that she could start a business selling hats and shoes. Now she owns a curtain store.

They also helped Aynur find a workplace, where the pretty young mother has a suitor, though she is not sure she is ready for a relationship.

"I am now doing everything for my son. He is the hope of my life," Aynur said. Her son's name is Umut, which means "hope" in the Uygur language.

Halisa regrets not learning of the project earlier. "I breastfed my eldest daughter for 13 months," she said. "She must have been infected then."

"My daughter is happy now," the mother said. "She won two national painting contests last year. I am proud of her, and I want her to be happy. Maybe we will be able to cure AIDS in the near future." (PNA/Xinhua)



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