Laitu Elkana, a 46-year-old mother of four, has dedicated her life to assisting HIV-positive women in not only surviving but also giving birth to HIV-negative children. Laitu is a mentor mother at Gwamna Awan Medical Hospital Kakuri in Kaduna State, where she is part of a team that encourages pregnant HIV-positive women to begin and finish their treatment regimens. The group is an essential component of the HIV Prevention from Mother to Child program in every ART center in Kaduna, a state in Northern Nigeria.
Laitu tested positive for HIV when pregnant with her second child in 2007. She recalls feeling as if her life had come to an end, but after enrolling in the PMTCT program, she learned that there were people who were not just positive, but also joyful and productive. “The program completely transformed me, and I’m now determined to save as many lives as possible.” “I go from community to community and house to house looking for HIV-positive women and encouraging them to get treatment,” Laitu adds.
Laitu has been a volunteer in the state’s PMTCT program since 2008, first at General Hospital Barnawa and then at Kaduna’s Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital before becoming a Mentor Mother at Gwamna Awan General Hospital. Despite not receiving any financial assistance, Laitu has helped countless women over the years by ensuring they attend their clinic appointments, take their medication, and do everything possible to remain hopeful and have an HIV-negative child.
This endeavor is a lifelong commitment for Laitu. She had three children while HIV-positive, and they are all HIV-negative. “It’s a lifetime commitment for me to ensure that all pregnant mothers who test positive for HIV are enrolled in ARV drugs and are monitored for adherence to the drugs up to delivery so that the child is not infected,” Laitu said.
The UNICEF-supported m-PIMA Analyzer Machine, which offers results for viral load and Early Infant Diagnosis for HIV in less than 70 minutes, has transformed the Mentor Mothers’ group. According to Ibrahim Kamis, the hospital’s medical laboratory technologist, the device has brought the testing system to the patient, saving on transportation costs as opposed to sending samples to a lab.
The Federal Government’s Clinical Mentorship Programme, which will be started in 2021, will provide comprehensive support to HIV treatment and care professionals. Clinical mentors identify and resolve gaps in all ART implementation facilities while mentoring other teams. Dr. Ozigi Joseph, one of the State Clinical Mentors, refers to Mentor Mothers, particularly those who are infected, as “Champions.” They perform crucial roles in the state’s PMTCT program and HIV response.
“When we say champions, we mean they are virally suppressed and have children who are not affected.” Based on their experience, they are better able to empathize to other newly diagnosed women, support them, and persuade them to take their medications. “These mentor mothers have gone through the same stages of depression and self-stigma that many newly diagnosed women do and can help them overcome it,” Joseph added.
According to Joseph, the approach has enhanced acceptance and reduced self-stigmatization among newly diagnosed clients, particularly those from Antenatal Care (ANC). Mentor Mothers like Laitu Elkana’s dedication and commitment have surely played a vital role in accomplishing this accomplishment.
Laitu’s tale exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of hope. She has turned her own life experience into a source of inspiration for other women, assisting them in navigating the myriad obstacles that life has thrown at them.
Mentor moms have played an important role in organizing women and encouraging traditional and religious authorities to help reduce mother-to-child transmission in their wards and LGAs. When Kaduna State led the way in 2021 with more than 80% coverage, the mentor moms intervention managed to reduce PMTCT in the state to fewer than 5%. Viiv healthcare is assisting with the program’s implementation.