Families Around the World Celebrate Health
Just days ago, the world celebrated International Day of Families. Here at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), we marked the occasion by celebrating children and parents around the world who are alive and healthy, thanks to testing, prevention, and treatment of HIV.
We want to highlight three families who have faced dark moments, but are now thriving. We are inspired by the strength and the positivity they bring to their communities.
Love is Stronger than HIV
Rose and Yohane met at a support group for people living with HIV in Lilongwe, Malawi. They fell in love and decided that they wanted to have a child.
The couple became educated about prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) through RISE Malawi, a community-based organization and implementing partner that receives training and funding from EGPAF. RISE Malawi provides HIV testing and counseling and antiretroviral therapy to girls and women affected by HIV.
After meeting with a PMTCT counselor, Rose and Yohane were confident that they could safely have an HIV-free child. They learned that if Rose adhered to antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, the chance of her transmitting the virus to her child would be virtually zero.
Yohane provided emotional and logistic support throughout Rose’s pregnancy and beyond. He helped Rose adhere to treatment and accompanied her to all of her clinic visits, both before and after the birth of their son—who was regularly tested for HIV until he reached 18 months. Each time the result was negative.
With their son officially “graduated” to HIV-free status, Rose and Yohane celebrated. Their hope had become real: they realized that love is stronger than HIV.
“I Will Not Abandon You”
Belinda lives with her husband, Eric, in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The couple is happy and healthy today, but they still remember a time when Belinda was close to death.
“Before getting tested for HIV, I suffered greatly from chronic malaria and high fevers,” says Belinda. “[When I became] pregnant, my health status grew even worse. I went through two months of illness severe weight loss until I weighed just 32 kilograms (70 pounds).”
During one of her visits to the Centre Hospitalier Presbytérien, Kinshasa, which is supported by EGPAF, a provider counseled Belinda about HIV and she agreed to get tested. The result was positive.
“When the health care provider told me about my HIV-positive status, I felt like a thunder was about to fall down on me,” remembers Belinda, “I thought a death sentence had been passed on me, since my elder sister had died from AIDS.”
Belinda’s husband was tested on the same day, and his result came back negative. After receiving words of reassurance from the health care provider and her husband, Belinda agreed to start antiretroviral treatment.
“Fortunately, the health care provider empowered me with words of encouragement,” Belinda says. “She told me that HIV develops into AIDS only if you do not adhere to the treatment. Malaria and other common diseases kill more people than HIV does.”
Belinda’s husband also provided emotional support.
“Do not worry, my beloved Belinda,” he recalls telling her. “I will not abandon you because of this disease. I love you, and I will accompany you with this heavy issue. Take your drugs. God will be with us.”
Belinda soon regained her health and, shortly after, was surprised to learn that she was pregnant. With her husband’s support, Belinda adhered to her PMTCT treatment and attended all of her antenatal care visits.
Today, Belinda and Eric are both happy and healthy, kept busy by their energetic, HIV-free daughter.
A Unique Family Unites to End AIDS in Children
Samkele and Tendai live in Utano, Zimbabwe, with their large family. This is the second marriage for both of them.
In 2003, Samkele tested HIV-positive while she was pregnant. Although he showed symptoms of AIDS-related illnesses, Samkele’s husband at that time refused to be tested and did not support her in adhering to treatment. He died shortly after the birth of her daughter.
“Soon after [my husband’s death], I managed to enroll on antiretroviral therapy, along with my baby [who was born HIV-positive],” says Samkele. She also tested her older son and enrolled him in treatment when he also tested positive for HIV.
Samkele eventually met Tendai in the Zimbabwe AIDS Prevention Programme (ZAPP), a community-based organization supported by EGPAF. Tendai had also lost his wife to HIV, and he and Samkele found they had much in common. They eventually married and now both work as ZAPP counselors.
“I thank ZAPP because they assisted me to accept my condition, so I can go on with my life,” says Samkele.
In addition to her work with the support group, Samkele works in the antenatal clinic, counseling pregnant women and their partners.
“When mothers are booked at antenatal clinic, and they test positive, I sit down with them,” says Samkele. “They usually [are in] denial, but I talk to them and I disclose my status. I always tell the women: You are so lucky that your husband accompanied you. My husband never accompanied me; he was in denial until death.”
Tendai started working for ZAPP as a volunteer child-minder.
“My own brothers had also started to die [from AIDS-related illnesses] and left me their children, so I wanted more information on how to take care of [them],” says Tendai.
He now works as a ZAPP community mobilizer, telling men that they can experience healthy, productive lives while living with HIV—and he represents a living example of that.
Despite the death and illness that Samkele and Tendai have faced, they are now loving spouses and doting parents of a houseful of healthy children.