First Lady Janet Museveni, flanked by state minister Sarah Opendi, speaks to Unaids country director Musa Bungudu Her innocent but firm voice tore through the microphone, sending the crowd into giggles and emotional tears in equal measure.
“Because of my mother, I was born HIV-free,’ she said.
Five-year-old Claire Asekenye was one of the HIV-negative children born to HIV-positive mothers picked to testify, before First Lady Janet Museveni launched the eMTC campaign in Teso sub-region on July 31 at Soroti Boma grounds.
It instantly worked up her audience, which responded with a thunderous applause. The First Lady, who is the national champion of the elimination of Mother-to-Child Transmission (eMCT) campaign, clapped in acknowledgement.
Standing by her daughter on the stage, Claire’s mother, Miriam Esimu, wore a satisfied parent’s smile.
“I feel great to have an HIV-free child; I’m proud of her,” said the 40-year-old Esimu, whose first-born, Eric Esimu, is HIV- positive.
In an interview on July 30, Esimu spoke fondly of Claire, whom she said plays big roles in their day-to-day family life.
“Claire always reminds us to swallow our drugs,” said Esimu, who has lived with the deadly virus for 15 years.
Before giving birth to Claire, Esimu was not only depressed by HIV/Aids-related illnesses, she also thought of not bearing a girl child. There was also the reality of her only child then, Eric, being HIV-positive.
But it was a big sigh of relief in November 2010 when she delivered Claire, who tested HIV-negative, thanks to the treatment she had accessed through the eMTC programme during her pregnancy.
By giving testimony about Claire’s status, Esimu and other HIV-positive mothers, who got drugs at Soroti Regional Referral Hospital and gave birth to healthy babies want to send a multiplier message to the general public to embrace the eMTC programme whose benefits are availed free of charge at government health facilities in the region.
It’s also against such successes so far that officials are optimistic Uganda can rid the next generation of HIV. Musa Bungudu, the country coordinator of the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (Unaids), says Uganda’s success in reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission by more than three fold shows that the country could bring down-infections to as low as 5, 000 by the end of this year.
According to official statistics, Uganda has so far scored remarkable success in preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to children, with infections reducing from 27,660 in 2011 to 9,629 in 2013.
At the launch of the campaign three years ago, the government set an ambitious target of eliminating the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children by the end 2015. Bungudu says that between 60 and 67% of HIV+ children are not enrolled on treatment yet drugs are available.
“In future authorities should consider testing all school-going children for HIV as a starting point,” Bungudu suggests.
In her remarks, Janet Museveni called on men in Teso region to support their spouses during pregnancy to attend ante natal clinics at least four times for professional advice.
“This campaign is about galvanizing the people of Uganda to become so angry to commit that HIV will not hurt the next generation. I call on men to hold hands for nine months with their wives to bring HIV-free babies to the world,” the First Lady said.