July 22, 2016

How Mothers’ Love Is Reducing Pediatric HIV Infections in Panama

Written by Alexandra Hernandez, Worldwide Corporate Contributions Manager

Fundación PROBIDSIDA (PROBIDSIDA) is a foundation in Panama, dedicated to maintaining the welfare and dignity of people affected by HIV and AIDS. Led by people living with HIV, in partnership with community volunteers, PROBIDSIDA manages a telephone helpline and an HIV testing center and lab. PROBIDSIDA also facilitates a support group and offers education through lectures and workshops for students, government officials and the general public.

One of PROBIDSIDA’s best-known programs is called “Your Best Proof of Love.” With support from Johnson & Johnson, the initiative encourages pregnant women to get tested for HIV and teaches HIV-positive mothers-to-be how to keep their babies HIV-free. PROBIDSIDA’s hope is that their efforts will reduce the incidences of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and eventually eradicate it all together.

I took some time to speak with Dr. Orlando Quintero, a pediatrician and the Director of PROBIDSIDA, to ask him about their work.

Q. What are the biggest issues facing women and girls in Panama when it comes to HIV prevention and treatment?

A. The biggest challenges that women and girls face are a result of the lack of sex education in schools and in families. There is silence in both of these areas. The reality is that 70% of young people become sexually active before they are 16 years old. We need to be talking about it and helping them make safe decisions.

Q. How does PROBIDSIDA contribute to the prevention and treatment of HIV among women and girls in Panama?

A. PROBIDSIDA works with young people in Panama, offering unique programs that educate about the realities of HIV and AIDS. We work in schools with students ages 10, 11 and 12. We also provide outreach and education to parents and train facilitators to make them safe and trustworthy sources of information in their communities.

Q. How is the “Your Best Proof of Love” program preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Panama?

Counselor and expectant mother talking

Counselors share information with expectant mothers at the PROBIDSIDA clinic.

A. The program provides education and awareness to women of reproductive age and pregnant women, and is focused on the importance of prenatal care and HIV testing. Information is provided to pregnant women and women of childbearing age at a national level. There are campaigns in mainstream media, such as TV, radio, newspapers and social media, as well as educational talks, given by HIV-positive women in community centers.

Q. Why was the name “Your Best Proof of Love” selected? 

A. The name “Your Best Proof of Love” was chosen because of the unconditional love and sacrifices that a child represents to his/her mother, and this includes the care given before and after childbirth. Getting tested for HIV, and keeping a child healthy is, we believe, one of the most important ways a family can show their love.

Q. How has the program changed the lives of its beneficiaries?

A. This program has impacted the lives of many women who are of reproductive age or are pregnant. By getting tested for HIV and getting an early diagnosis, they have the opportunity to receive proper antiretroviral treatment. Not only has the health status of these women and mothers been improved, but their babies are born without HIV.

Q. What has been PROBIDSIDA’s greatest success story so far?

A. In 2000, 47 children were born with HIV and only 8% of pregnant women were tested for HIV. By 2015, and after five major campaigns of “Your Best Proof of Love,” only 6 children were born with HIV and 91% of pregnant women were tested for HIV testing. Early diagnosis and timely treatment have helped to reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Panama from 40% to 3.2%.

Q. What do you want people to know about PROBIDSIDA’S work in Panama?

A. We want people to know that PROBIDSIDA is an organization led by people with HIV, and that our mission is focused on providing for the well-being and dignity of people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. PROBIDSIDA was founded 20 years ago. We don’t discriminate against age, gender, race, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Everyone deserves the same access to treatment and education, because everyone deserves to be healthy and thrive.

Alexandra Hernandez

Alexandra Hernandez is a Worldwide Corporate Contributions Manager at Johnson & Johnson. In this position, Alexandra leads the Latin America and the Caribbean contributions activities. She has over 10 years of experience working with regional colleagues in the development of grass roots partnerships and initiatives impacting underserved communities in the region.