Day of the Girl: A Teen's Access to Antenatal Care in DRC

{Photo Credit: MSH}A nurse in Manika prepares to conduct a group education session on antenatal care, as part of the awareness campaign that helped Brigitte access the care she needed.Photo Credit: MSH

When her rapist was arrested, 16-year old Brigitte* thought the worst was behind her. But when she discovered she was pregnant, she had little choice but to drop out of school and work the family fields in her village, in the Manika health zone of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She certainly could not afford antenatal care (ANC) visits.

The DRC government has made maternal health one of its highest priorities, and partners like the USAID-funded Integrated Health Project Plus (IHPplus) have collaborated with the Ministry of Health to make that vision a reality. Knowing that ANC visits are out-of-reach for many women, IHPplus subsidizes free and reduced-cost care for expectant mothers. And knowing that many women are not aware of the benefits of ANC visits, IHPplus has organized a variety of campaigns to educate mothers-to-be.

During one such door-to-door campaign, Brigitte learned about the prospect of receiving free ANC visits. When she visited the local referral health center, she barely had time to register the good news--that her pregnancy, then in its 17th week, was progressing normally--before she got another devastating report: she was HIV-positive.

Fortunately, providers at the health site referred Brigitte for HIV treatment and appropriate care and support, including psychosocial support and education on appropriate infant feeding to avoid mother-to-child transmission. Today she has a healthy young baby who was born HIV-free, thanks to the anti-retroviral treatment (ART) she continues to receive.

Brigitte now knows that sexual assault survivors have options to avoid pregnancy and HIV infection, including the emergency contraceptive pill and post-exposure prophylaxis with ART. She has enrolled in a training program to learn how to promote ANC visits and looks forward to educating other women about receiving the care they need.

“I hope that the program continues to expand, because without it women like me have the terrible prospect of passing the disease onto our children.”

Implemented by Management Sciences for Health and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Ltd (OSC) in 126 health zones under a subcontract via Pathfinder/Evidence to Action (E2A), IHPplus is considered a two-year “bridge,” to avoid a gap in services in USAID-supported health zones upon completion of the five-year flagship IHP.

*A pseudonym for privacy