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Win against HIV mother to child transmission

…positive mother tells PMTCT success story

SECHABA MOKHETHI

Botha Bothe — A 28-year-old Lerato Thoahlane has beaten the odds, led a healthy live despite being infected with HIV for the past 14 years. She now has healthy twin-girls aged seven and is buoyant to build them legacy. 

Thanks to the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) funded initiative, Preventing Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT), the young girls are HIV negative.

After realising she was pregnant, Thoahlane tells MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism that she had to undergo PMTCT treatment as she had already known her HIV status to be positive.

“I took AZT (Zidovudine) treatment for the whole of seven months-two weeks period as my twins were born prematurely. There was also another dose of nevirapine that I took upon feeling first labour pains,” she says.

The girls were breastfed like any other baby during their first six-weeks while they were also taking nevirapine, a drug used to treat and prevent HIV and AIDS.

“Due to my status, they were only breastfed as we don’t mix breastfeeding with baby formula. This is because the baby may develop cuts during formula feeding, through which they may get infected as the mother breastfeeds.”

At age of six months, Thoahlane who is also a single parent says she weaned the girls off breastfeeding and stopped giving them nevirapine as well. “They were tested four times during a period of one year two months to ensure they were really negative. Since then they continue to test after every year.”

“Their growth and health are like those of kids from HIV negative parents. There is actually no harm from me. Their future is coming bright. Everything that I do regarding my life is for their benefit as I am building their legacy.

“People still don’t believe a ‘positive’ parent can have a ‘negative’ child but it’s easy with experts’ guidance.  Being positive as I am, one is not advised to get pregnant whenever they feel like having a baby.”

Thoahlane says she has to consult with her doctor first to determinate level viral load as it has to be consistently suppressed to protect the developing baby from contacting the virus.

“That means you have to be on a trial to ensure that it is really suppressed. For some, tests are run for three months while others six months and this is where PMCT starts.”

Thoahlane became aware of her HIV status at the age of 13. “I got sick and decided to do HIV test, it was in May 2005. I was shaken to get positive results but very fortunately, the counsellor I met was able to lay off the sorrow and I became hope to lead a healthy life regardless of the virus.

She suspects she was infected by a boyfriend who succumbed to the virus “two years after knowing my status. I was only told he was positive after I got into ‘contact’ with him.”

“The difficult part was sharing the results with my family members. It took me a year keeping it to myself yet I had started being an activist outside.” Thohloane would make up stories to cover her tracks as she attended HIV check-ups and related meetings.

At her young age, she attended check-ups with older people, which was a challenge to her. “I could not even understand a difference between HIV and AIDs as the education given was not at my level and I was also not free to engage.”

She was later transferred to Ka Bophelong Ba Bana Clinic at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital where she started interacting with peers and learning about the pandemic at her level.

“My life changed. I pioneered a group of children living with HIV and we got sponsors. We started talking openly about our status and the virus. That’s how I also got renewed. The more you talk and exchange knowledge about the phenomenon the more you heal.”

Thoahlane ended revealing her secret to her family. “It was very challenging as my mother didn’t accept, in fact she was very disappointed in me and didn’t support me.

“I nevertheless continued doing my things alone. I remember where a caregiver was needed for check-ups, I would fill the consent by myself as she would refuse to come with me,” she said.

Thoahlane found a career in HIV activism. She joined Kick4Life and other HIV related organisations. “I then became part of Sentebale where I was able to meet Prince Harry in 2007 and my doors opened as I talked publicly about HIV and status.”

“I remember going to Ultimate FM during my pregnancy. It was my second appearance talking about my status on radio. My girls were born shortly following the interview in 2011. I got employed by Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation – Lesotho as clinical assistant.

Thoahlane’s deals with HIV coinfection with TB patients on a daily basis at Baylor in Botha Bothe. 

“I always say to me medication is just a supplement. Opening up and worrying less about what people say is one that healed me,” the young mother says, also having lost her mother to AIDs in 2017.

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