Fortunata Kasege

Fortunata and her daughter, Florida.

Through my experience living with HIV and raising a HIV-negative child, I developed a deep desire to become a part of advocacy and community outreach.

"Today I use my personal story to educate people about HIV and AIDS, give hope to those who are infected and affected, and to eliminate stigma and stereotyping."

I’ve slowly opened up about being HIV-positive and disclosed my status to about five of my friends, including my boyfriend. I also became a lot more involved in the HIV community, which I absolutely love.

The energy from my friends and the incredible people I meet at HIV/AIDS events and conferences is February 1997 – I was 22 years old and had just arrived in the United States from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I knew exactly what I wanted – to come to United States and get a journalism degree and work experience before going back home and working as a national and freelance international journalist. I was a newlywed with a baby on the way in a new environment. I remember my mom insisting that I visit a prenatal clinic as soon as I arrived in Houston, Texas.

I was almost 30 weeks into my pregnancy and had never had a check-up. A friend took me to a neighborhood hospital in Houston where I agreed to take routine prenatal tests, including an HIV test. I was not worried about HIV. I just prayed that after more than 20 hours flying from Africa, my unborn baby would be healthy. I went home feeling good, energized, and even more hopeful about my new beginning.

Less than two weeks after my check-up I received a phone call from the hospital asking me to report to the clinic right away. I entered the clinic and without wasting any time the nurse broke the news that changed my life forever. She told me I had tested positive for HIV. For a minute I thought I was having a bad dream, I was horrified. I felt dizzy, fell out of my chair, and then started to cry. I cried for my unborn baby, my husband, my parents, and myself. My life was just beginning. Was it over now? I stepped out of the room in a panic and repeated the horrible news to my husband.

We spent the next few minutes asking questions regarding our health, how long we had to live, and the future of our unborn baby. The nurse told us treatment was available to keep us healthy, and that we could protect our unborn baby from contracting HIV. I soon began prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) treatment that would save my life, and the life of my baby. The journey was not easy. I took the pills every day and night, never missing a dose.

I prayed to God for my baby to be born without HIV. It was hard for me to believe such a miracle because at the time in Africa, children who were born from mothers living with HIV became infected as well, and died as young children. I continued to pray, and hope, and wait. My healthy seven pound, 13 ounce baby girl was born just a few months later. She tested negative for HIV, and for the first time in months I was happy and hopeful again.

After months of tests and studies, we eventually concluded that she was HIV-negative. Through my experience living with HIV and raising a HIV-negative child, I developed a deep desire to become a part of advocacy and community outreach. Today I use my personal story to educate people about HIV and AIDS, give hope to those who are infected and affected, and to eliminate stigma and stereotyping. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone, and people need to know that.