Fatou’s Story: “ARVs saved my life”

In 2002, Fatou and her fiancé, a fuel attendant, were living in live Soubré. Fatou was a nurse's aide student doing her internship at the Soubré General Hospital. When she became pregnant, her doctor asked her to get tested for HIV. Not feeling ready, Fatou procrastinated and did not get tested. Since the beginning of her pregnancy, she is often sick and very weak. She finally gives birth to twins weighing nearly 1 kg each.

Affected by the repeated illness of their mother, the twins are not spared. The first twin died two weeks later. Desperate and with limited resources, Fatou entrusts her fate and that of her baby to traditional healers, but nothing helped, and the baby’s condition worsened every day. On the advice of her colleagues and her fiancé, in between time in San Pédro, she decides to send the baby to the hospital. Fatou and her daughter eventually make the trip from Soubré to San Pédro.

Upon arrival at the San Pédro General Hospital, at the sight of the puny baby, who was in very bad shape, the pediatrician asks the mother to have the child tested for HIV. The result is clear, the baby is positive, and her case is very serious. Doctors recommend that the child be sent to Abidjan for better treatment. What to do? What about her parents and her fiancé who are unaware of this situation; where to find the money for the child’s care? Despite all the questions that raced through her head, Fatou decides to get tested for HIV and learns that she is also HIV positive.

Distraught, Fatou says nothing to her parents about her status and that of her child. As a diversion and to silence the rumors, she says that doctors have diagnosed a blood problem. Her mother, who lives with her, thinks that a spell has been cast on them. This is the reason why Fatou continues to lug her daughter from healer to healer. Nevertheless in charge of this big secret, Fatou wonders if she and her daughter will survive this terrible disease, without the benefit of adequate treatment, Fatou’s daughter died at the age of 18 months. This last ordeal completely wears on Fatou who is already very ill and thinks that the end is very near.

After these tragic events, Fatou married her fiancé when she went to join him in San Pédro where he works. Fatou’s health remains precarious.

Upon her arrival in San Pédro, always sick, she goes to the hospital and after further tests is started on ARVs. In those days, ARVs costed 5,000 CFA. Having still not been able to tell her husband, Fatou struggles to purchase the ARVs. She enlists the help of good samaritans will every time she buys ARVs. She will even sell pagnes to pay for her drugs unbeknownst to her husband. As a result of taking medication, Fatou’s health improves. But against all odds, her husband loses his job and both must return to Soubré.

Fatou whose health is now much improved, receives training, and starts working under contract as a community health worker. Things are not easy at first, but she hangs in there. They could not validate her nurse’s aide diploma due to her long illness; Fatou sees this as an opportunity and her new lifeline. She wants to fight but also to help others escape.

In 2009, she became pregnant and was afraid of reliving her past experience. She decides to go for prenatal counseling and follows the advice of her family doctor. After having an ultrasound, Fatou learns she is expecting twins again. She takes her courage in both hands this time and shares her status with her husband so that together they can cope. Her husband goes into a violent rage and leaves the family home.

Fatou is alone but for the sake of her children, she decides to fight for the best outcome. This time, her pregnancy goes smoothly. She will give birth by caesarean section in April 2010 to twins: a girl and a boy. Following her doctor’s recommendation, she chose artificial feeding.

Six weeks after the birth of her children, they test HIV negative. What a relief for Fatou! Life goes on and thru another she learns that her husband asked about them. She continued to care for her children while keeping her head high, despite everything. One morning, against all odds, her husband returns home after six months of separation. She is in tears as she welcomes him as she hoped every day for his return and understanding.

She asks forgiveness for her husband for endangering his life. He also apologizes for having abandoned her He decides to take the test and is negative. Phew, Fatou feels freer now and is able to free herself from this guilt which has plagued her for years.
Today, Fatou’s twins are 4 years and are doing well. They started school and are the pride of their parents. As Fatou says “ARVs saved my life."

Fatou is a Community Advisor at Orassur, an NGO which received funding from Fondation Ariel Glaser for community activities in Soubré area during 2013 - 2014.

Fatou ** is an alias**

NB: Since 2008, ARVs have been free in Côte d' Ivoire.