I t never occurred to Prince Dick Kayemba and his wife, Naomi Nagujja, that they could ever have children. As an HIV-positive couple, the Kayembas had nursed the belief that it was risky for people living with the virus to have children.
Their jolly and lovely children are10-year-old Morris Jjuuko and five-year-old Diana Nassuuna. However, the couple has baptised the children all sorts of names, for a good reason. They call them Kirabo (Gift), Kyabeyi (Precious), Kyamagero (Miracle), Kisakya Mukama (God’s grace), super girl/ boy, the list is endless.
The Kayembas are AIDS survivors. Kayemba suffered full-blown AIDS, while Nagujja had a near-death experience after being bed-ridden for months.
Kayemba discovered he was HIV-positive in 1987, while his partner found out in 2000. Kayemba fell seriously ill for two years, went into a coma for weeks and was pronounced dead at one point.
However, after his health improved, Kayemba suggested to his wife that they should have a baby. “Now that God has preserved me up to 2007, I want to have a child. We can have a child through the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) strategy. I have read much about the strategy and there are health benefits for mothers.
I wish we could try it out,” he told his wife. Kayemba’s proposal did not meet Nagujja’s approbation. She did not want to conceive, because she feared she would die. However, she told Kayemba that he was free to have babies with any other woman. Kayemba and Nagujja met in 2006 at the Medical Research Centre (MRC) in Entebbe, from where they used to receive their anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). The two were linked by their counsellor. When they resolved that they were ready to have a baby, they started collecting information on the prevention of mother-tochild transmission. They sought advice from counsellors and HIV specialist doctors.
Kayemba was informed by his doctor at Nsambya Hospital that with the right specialised treatment and medical care, one can reduce the risk of passing HIV to their unborn child to less than 2%. Kayemba was assured that women living with HIV, who are on treatment and have an undetectable viral load, are extremely unlikely to transmit HIV to their babies through childbirth or breastfeeding.
A number of tests indicated his viral load was undetectable, proving that the drugs had completely suppressed the virus in Kayemba’s bloodstream. “Viral load” is the amount of virus in someone’s body. Without proper medication, the HIV-virus replicates and causes the virus to increase, unchecked, but ARVs prevent this and then the amount of HIV in the body goes down. When the virus is “undetectable” by viral load tests, this is a positive result and often the goal of treatment. A low viral load is less than 100 copies per millilitre.
The viral load can go as high as over 500,000 copies per milliliter. When Nagujja conceived, they followed all precautions and made appropriate interventions to reduce chances of passing on the virus to their baby during pregnancy, labour, at birth and immediately after delivery.
Jjuuko is born
Today, out of 100 babies born to HIV-positive women, 90% babies are protected through elimination of mother-to-child transmission (EMTCT). Nagujja delivered Jjuuko normally in 2007.
The couple made sure that the baby was not breastfed. They fed him on formula milk until he turned one year before they switched to cow milk. Nagujja did not experience any problems after delivery. When Jjuuko was seven years old, the couple decided to have another baby. In February 2013, Nasuuna was born, this time by C-section.
The couple took the same precaution not to breastfeed her. Both Juuko and Nasuuna are free from the virus.
“Thanks to PMTCT, but most importantly, thanks to God who has kept us healthy. We hope that our experience will bring hope to other couples living with HIV,” Kayemba says.