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Watch: Malawi teen who contracted HIV through breastfeeding says she is no longer ashamed

By Zodidi Dano Time of article published Jun 17, 2021

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She was only a few weeks old when she contracted HIV from her mother through breastfeeding, but now a 13-year-old Malawian teen says she is comfortable in disclosing her status thanks to the Doctors without Borders (MSF) teen club programme.

Every Saturday, the 13-year-old together with her 35-year-old mother, Maria Mataka, cycle for close to two hours to Namithambo Health Centre in the Muhasuwa village where she gets her medical check-up and counselling.

The teen is among the more than 180 teens who get regular counselling, medical check-up and education sessions through this programme.

“I remember my very first session at the teen club, I was so excited to meet other children who are just like me, who take medication daily and have to go through the same medical check-ups as I do, It was a relief,” the teen said.

Maria Mataka hugging her 13-year-old teen. Photo: Zodidi Dano

The teen (who will not be identified) was born HIV negative; she only contracted the virus through breastfeeding as an infant.

Her mother, Mataka, said when she tested at the start of her pregnancy, she was negative. And when she delivered the baby, both she and the child were negative. However, it was only when the child was delivered that she started seeing behavioural changes in her then-husband.

Maternity Unit at Blantyre’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Photo: Zodidi Dano

“I heard on the radio that people are encouraged to test for the virus and I felt that should because I could sense that my husband was cheating on me and I wanted to know my status,” she said.

Mataka said she tested positive and a few months later, her daughter tested positive too. It was only her adult son who was negative.

“I was angry and worried because I had seen how sick people with HIV can be, I worried that I would be the same but when I told about ARV(antiretrovirals) treatment I became a little at ease,” she said.

Recounting her daughter’s reaction when the time came for full disclosure Mataka said her daughter became more isolated.

The teen was informed through counselling and underwent a full disclosure session coupled with Teen Club sessions.

MSF Teen Club session in Malawi children playing and parents watching. Video: Zodidi Dano

The teen said: “I was numb when I heard of my status, It was new to me. Although I had been taking medication all my life, I never really understood what was wrong until then.

“But now, things have changed. I am comfortable talking about my HIV status with people. I am no longer scared or ashamed,” the teen girl said.

Her mother said although there is a stigma surrounding HIV she was not worried about her daughter’s future. She said more and more people were getting tested and HIV education was available everywhere.

“I have no worries about her future. I know she will be okay, she is on ARV treatment and she has had a normal childhood, not much has changed in our lives. For as long as we take our medication properly we will be okay,” the mom said.

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