BAMENDA, CAMEROON – Emmanuella Djomoa, 36, is one of the pregnant women who took part in a march sponsored by UNICEF last week in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Northwest region, advocating for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
She says the march was a positive initiative to encourage women to seek antenatal care early during their pregnancies to reduce chances of transmitting HIV to their babies. But she says that it is difficult for pregnant women to persuade husbands to come with them.
“When I told my husband yesterday that we have been asked to come to antenatal with our husbands, he laughed and said to me: ‘Am I also pregnant? Why on Earth should I follow you to antenatal?’” Djomoa says.
UNICEF sponsored the march in Bamenda last week to advocate for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV last week through early antenatal care. The campaign stressed the importance of husbands accompanying their wives to attain antenatal care, a concept many husbands say they reject. But organizers are confident that the project will be successful.
About 500 people participated in an advocacy march along Bamenda’s Commercial Avenue last week to advocate for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by seeking early antenatal care. Women who were pregnant, women who were not pregnant, women who wore pillows or cloths under their shirts in solidarity with pregnant women and men of various ages participated in the march.
The prevalence of HIV and AIDS among pregnant women in Cameroon is 7.6 percent, according to a 2012 UNICEF report. Mother-to-child transmission of HIV is the most significant source of infection in children younger than 15.
The march was executed by the Northwest regional delegation of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family. Judy Abong, the regional delegate, addressed the crowd about the benefits of the project, being carried out in seven of Cameroon’s 10 regions.
Abong encouraged pregnant women and their husbands to seek antenatal care six weeks into pregnancy at local health facilities to ensure the safety of their babies. She emphasized the importance of early care in preventing the transmission of HIV from mothers living with HIV to their babies.
“Every baby born into this world deserves a healthy life, a life free from HIV/AIDS,” Abong said.
March advocates emphasized the importance of wives and husbands attending antenatal care in order to both get tested for HIV and, if HIV-positive, to receive advice on how to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies. But women and men alike say that although husbands support antenatal care for their wives, they refuse to accompany them or to get the necessary testing.
Shu Peter, 38, one of the people riding a motorcycle in the march, says the concept of husbands accompanying their wives to attain antenatal care is funny.
“Wonders will never end,” he says, laughing. “Why should I accompany my wife to antenatal when I am not pregnant? Why are people struggling to complicate this world? No one should force me to know my HIV status.”