Ukraine: Maternity hospital training reduces HIV/AIDS stigma (July 2006)

For Viktoriya, who lives in eastern Ukraine, the last year has been an emotional roller coaster ride of joy mixed with distress: first she discovered that she was pregnant, and then she learned that she was HIV positive.

Viktoriya, 24, decided to give birth at a maternity hospital that works with HIV-positive mothers, one of 16 maternity hospitals in eight oblasts of Ukraine that are implementing the Mother and Infant Health Project (MIHP) with support from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Emergency Plan/ PEPFAR).

As with Viktoriya, a large number of HIV-positive women in Ukraine learn that they are HIV-positive when they are tested during pregnancy. In the past, many of these women were attended to by medical personnel who did not know a lot about HIV/AIDS and were afraid to interact with HIV-positive patients. In addition, HIV-positive mothers were placed in separate wards where their special needs were ignored.

To address this large problem, MIHP organizes educational seminars, trainings and roundtables for women's clinics and maternity hospitals. Doctors, nurses and social services workers are taught that HIV-positive patients are the same as other patients. Health care workers are trained about interventions, such as antiretroviral drug prophylaxis and formula feeding, which can help to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.

"The health staff did not ignore my problems," said Viktoriya. "They talked to me, they helped me psychologically, and I think my child was treated with the best attention."

In the hospitals where MIHP is working, the percentage of women and their newborns receiving antiretroviral prophylaxis to help prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission has increased from 80 to 100 percent. At these hospitals, HIV-positive mothers are no longer isolated in separate wards; they are placed with other pregnant women and give birth in the same delivery rooms.

Today, while Viktoriya realizes that many challenges lie ahead, she is prepared and upbeat: "At this maternity hospital, I was taught to live with HIV and to fight for my child's life."

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