Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mshana Wami!!

On Tuesday afternoon, after a lovely day filled with thwarted attempts at teaching, I came home to finish “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien and, of course, promptly fell asleep. Three hours later, my dream (nightmare?) about Christmas shopping with Lil Wayne was rudely interrupted by a bunch of children jumping on me screaming about “umfana” (boy). Yes, after LITERALLY a month of waiting, the much-anticipated Mpendulo Noah Khumalo has FINALLY come home! And he’s adorable!!
He was apparently born by cesarean at 9:00am on 30 June and weighed 2800 grams, which doesn’t make any sense to me but that’s what his little card says. (To me, that means he weighs as much as 2800 paper clips because we were always told that a paper clip weighed a gram, but I can’t fathom 2800 paper clips so I don’t know.) Though there’s still a chance that he contracted HIV in the first few months of the pregnancy before his mom started taking ARVs, he appears to be healthy. And he’s definitely well-loved.

I talked to his mother, Tsakisile Monica, for a little bit while I fed Mpendulo and I was SO happy to learn that she has been fully-educated on ways to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to the baby. Apparently, in South Africa (where the baby was born), an HIV-positive mother gets a free 6-month supply of baby formula if she sits through a counseling session on the importance of proper breastfeeding or formula feeding to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. We talked about how she’s going to face stigma from the community because she’s chosen to bottle-feed Mpendulo (it’s un-Swazi!), but she said that his life is more important to her than what her community thinks of her. Besides, she and everyone else in my family are fairly open about their HIV-positive status so the stigma will be nothing new.

Right now, if he was tested for HIV, Mpendulo would definitely test positive because his mother is positive, but that doesn’t mean that he actually has HIV. Basically, the normal test for HIV (“rapid test”) only tests for HIV-related antibodies in the blood, essentially measuring the body’s immune response to the virus. Thus, because immunity is passed from mother to child in the womb, Mpendulo was born with the same antibodies that are currently fighting off the virus in his mother’s body. On the rapid test, babies test false positive for about 18 months after birth, but there’s another test, called a “DBS” (dry blood spot) that they can do to determine before then. The DBS tests for “viral load,” or the number of viruses in the body per microliter of blood, and is considered reliably accurate from one month after birth. Mpendulo will have a DBS test on 4 August, but until then all we can do is wait. While we’re obviously hoping for a negative test, if it happens to be positive the baby could start ARVs as early as August and he’ll take them for the rest of his life. I’ll keep you posted.

In other news, I spent Thursday afternoon in Nsingizini with a social worker, police officer and a woman who is opening an orphanage near Nhlangano. We were interviewing the child-headed household I’d worked with previously (three kids, ages 13, 7 and 4) to see if they would be a good fit for the last 3 spots in the orphanage. I’m not sure EXACTLY what was determined, but the police have been sent out to find the children’s mother (she’s still alive, just abandoned them) so that she can give consent to move them, which is promising. Today (Saturday) I’m going to stay the night at the farm where the orphanage is, so hopefully I’ll know more.
In the meantime, I think that’s all. My hard drive died last week, so I don’t have any photos to post besides those already on my flash drive, but most of the others are backed up on my external (which I forgot to bring today).

Advice for anyone joining the Peace Corps: bring an external hard drive. Even if you are bringing a computer. Maybe ESPECIALLY if you’re bringing a computer. Traveling mysteriously kills hard drives. That’s twice now for me. Excellent.
Anyway, that’s all for now. I have a 9am date with fried chicken and a farm full of kids. Dream come true.
Love from the Swaz!!

No comments: