Pregnancy is often the point at which young women first discover their HIV status. Such discovery across sub-Saharan Africa remains both highly common in young people and highly stigmatised. Experiencing stigma during pregnancy, combined with the difficulties of managing a chronic condition like HIV alongside motherhood, can have negative consequences. Women often deny their condition, and don’t take their medication, or find it difficult to breastfeed their children. This increases the risk of transmitting HIV to their child.
HIV positive pregnant women and feeding mothers need psychosocial support. But stigma surrounding their condition, lack of mental health care and the demands of motherhood prevent them from seeking help. The SHM Foundation and Zambart (a research collaboration between the University of Zambia’s School of Medicine and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) are attempting to overcome these barriers by adapting The SHM Foundation’s Zumbido Model of peer-to-peer text message support groups to suit the needs of 60 Zambian pregnant and feeding mothers living with HIV, with an aim to improve ART adherence and prevent onward transmission. We are using the digital communications platform Rocket.Chat (an open-source technology solution) to facilitate these support groups. Insaka has been implemented with women living with HIV attending antenatal clinics and receiving HIV treatment in Chipata and Kanyama (settlements within the Lusaka town).
In 2017, we were awarded a prize at the United Nations General Assembly for our work – the prize money was used to launch Project Insaka in July 2018, which will come to an end in November 2018.