A young mother in Kisumu, Kenya, Maureen Akoth tried out many paths before pursuing nursing as a career, including working as a data collector and as a peer educator for HIV-positive mothers with ICAP in Kenya. But her true passion is for helping people, and nursing school has allowed her to pursue these goals.
In 2018, Maureen was already working as a peer mentor at a local hospital when she was approached by the ICAP team in Kenya to use her skills in mentoring and channel her passion to make a difference in the lives of young mothers living with HIV, just like her. She joined a team of peer mentors, all part of ICAP’s Adolescent HOPE Project. The study, which was successfully completed in 2019, aimed to show the importance of psycho-social support for young mothers-to-be as they worked in partnership with medical staff to ensure that their children were born, and remained, HIV-free.
During the study, ICAP staff and peer mentors like Maureen provided enhanced emotional support services for young women both during and after their pregnancies. In addition to regular medical check-ups available to all expectant mothers in Kenya, Maureen and her fellow mentors ran group sessions where they encouraged their peers to play an active role in the healthy development of their children and to take care of their own health as well. Sessions included a wide range of activities and lively discussions intended to increase the young mothers’ knowledge of HIV care and treatment as well as postnatal care for themselves and their children. Additionally, the meetings served as checkpoints to ensure that mothers were regularly taking their HIV treatments, which would allow their children to remain HIV-negative.
Maureen quickly found purpose in being able to lift up other young women learning to balance motherhood with their daily HIV treatment regimens. Drawing from her personal experience as a young mother living with HIV, she quickly became a leader among the mothers, organizing health talks and offering support during their monthly check-ins. During her time working as a volunteer mentor at the hospital, she was able to see nurses in action and was moved by their dedication for their patients, especially in the pediatric unit. In her own words, she dreamed of one day “being able to help patients who are suffering, relieving their pains, manage patients with different conditions, and to help prolong people’s lives.”
On the strength of her work in the peer support groups, ICAP in Kenya offered Maureen a paid, part-time role assisting in the data collection at the close of the Adolescent HOPE project. She used this time to build out new skills in patient interaction and health data collection. With the support of the HOPE project coordinator, Maureen used the money saved from her work on the ICAP project to apply to nursing school and was accepted. She started classes at Kenya Medical Training College last year.
“The knowledge I gained while working with ICAP will help me in my future career as a nurse. I learned communication skills and can now express myself in front of people without fear and share my HIV status openly with them. I can also help those who are newly infected on how to disclose their HIV status, teach young mothers on how to prevent HIV infection to their babies, and lead health talks for people facing these challenges.”
Maureen’s passion for helping others has motivated her to persevere in her studies as she looks forward to her future vocation, using her nursing training to make a difference in the lives of her future patients.
This article is part of ICAP’s 2020 Year of the Nurse campaign to advocate for nurses as leaders in the international health sector and encourage discussion on how the global health world can better leverage nurses’ unique connections to the communities they serve.
With nurses at the helm advocating for patient-centered approaches in health care and health policy, practical and affordable solutions for the world’s most pressing health challenges are reachable.