By Dr Solome Jebessa
I was opening my office in one of the hospitals in Ethiopia when the nurse who I worked with for years approached me with a sad and surprised look. I wasn’t expecting this in a beautiful Monday in the summer of 2009.
“You see, doctor, this baby’s mother has no HIV, but we tested the baby and found her to be HIV positive”.
I wasn’t surprised. Sometimes we see false positive results. I advised her to retest the baby.
I should have guessed. She was such a meticulous nurse. She had repeated the test more than once but each time it turned up to be positive for HIV.
So we tried to investigate the route of infection.
Did she have blood transfusion?
Did she have manipulation by a local healer?
Was she exposed to unsafe injection?
Did she have circumcision?
I bombarded the nurse with questions.
The answer was NO!
Then what happened?
After scratching our heads we finally found that the baby was breast fed by a lady from the neighborhood.
I wanted to see the baby and the two mothers.
Two women in their early thirties each carried a child, a boy and a girl.
They were twins, we found out later.
The story goes back to the immediate puerperal period of the biological mother who had been unwell andweak, and gave one of the twins to be breast fed by her best friend, who lived only a block away.
The friend who was entrusted volunteered and took the baby girl to breast feed.
The baby girl would cling to her suckling the virus along with the milk.
Other than wet nursing, I have seen kids whose parents have been negative and acquired HIV through these unusual ways of transmission:
Manipulation by local healer:
- Uvula cutting
- Milk teeth extraction
- Unsafe injections
- Female genital mutilations/ circumcises.
Sharing needle for chiggers extraction
Feeding infants with chewed food especially ‘Kolo’ and meat
Shaving infant’s head using shared blades
Dr Jebessa is a pediatrician who is a senior technical advisor overseeing the pediatrics HIV program at Primary Health Care level in Ethiopia and she is currently stationed at ANECCA headquarters in Uganda. She went to medical school in Jimma University. She later specialized in pediatrics at Addis Ababa University and did her MPH at Addis Continental School of Public Health /University of Gondar, in Ethiopia.