A BABY girl who was born naturally to a HIV-positive mother turned two weeks old yesterday — and is at the moment HIV-free.
The two-week-old girl, Hadassah Grace Vukialau, was a healthy 3.9 kilograms when she was born to Jokapeci Vukialau at the Colonial War Memorial (CWM) Hospital.
Mrs Vukialau is the first woman in the country who had come out openly about her HIV positive status and has had a natural birth, as opposed to an elective caesarean birth.
"Women who are HIV-positive often have an elective caesarean rather than natural births," she said.
The natural birth of Hadassah makes Mrs Vukialau one of the pioneers of natural births for HIV-positive women in Fiji.
She told The Sunday Times she wanted her experience to be made known to other women who wished to have children but were HIV-positive and had not come out about their status.
"With the advancement of therapy in terms of preventing mother to child transmission (MTCT), we are able to now opt for normal child delivery," she said.
"One of the main highlights is how health care workers now have a changed attitude.
"People with HIV complain about stigma, discrimination and isolation in hospitals but what I experience now has really changed. People have been educated about HIV."
She spoke about her desire for her story to encourage more people to come out about their status because of the positive change in attitudes she had witnessed during her pregnancy.
Mrs Vukialau, who is also an activist for HIV in the country through the FJN Plus network, said the experience allowed her to see how global standards could be met in local communities.
"Health care workers have practised universal precautions, so regardless of your HIV status, they take all the necessary precautions. This is so important for people who have not come out about their HIV status.
"This outlines the three zeros which UNAIDS strives for — zero new infections, zero stigma and discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.
"Our health care systems have become so accommodating and I really hope more women come forward and make use of this," said Mrs Vukialau.
For the next six weeks, Hadassah will take medication to remove any HIV antibodies which may have been passed on from her mother and every six months she will be checked to see if she has contracted any symptoms of the virus.
At the moment however, Mrs Vukialau's bundle of joy is in the clear.
Mrs Vukialau remains a wife and proud mother of two — her first one being a boy who was born in 2005 from an elective caesarean and her now two-week-old, Hadassah, which she says is Hebrew for Esther.