My name is Afia, and this is my story of hope reborn!
I was born in Gizegyera village in Kisoro Town Council, South Western Uganda in 1976. I went to school and finished my ordinary-level education, then went for a computer course. I got married in 1995, and my husband and I were blessed with two children, who are now 16 and 15 years old. However, in 2000, my husband fell ill. He was diagnosed with bronchitis, and died shortly after being admitted to the hospital.
I had heard that bronchitis was characteristic of people with HIV. Scared of leaving my children, I decided to take an HIV test to plan for them early. And the dreaded news came to pass: I tested positive. I was devastated. There were so many unanswered questions! What did I do wrong to deserve this? I stayed chaste until I got married in church, and tried to be the best Christian, wife, and mother I could be. I was empty. I did not even feel like a human being anymore.
As I struggled to come to terms with my fate, there was the lingering question of who would take care of my children. What if they also were HIV-positive? The thought of me dying and leaving them behind pushed me to test them, so that I could decide under whose care I would leave them. Luckily, they were HIV-negative.
Their health status gave me a reason to live again – but at that time, HIV care was not as good as it is today. The services offered were limited, and stigma and discrimination ran very high. I had no support for my children, and yet my health was deteriorating. People could not even help me because they did not know what I was suffering from.
I decided to confide in one of my brothers. He was supportive. In January 2004, he took me for a CD4 count in the capital city of Kampala, and we paid shs200,000 (about USD$90) for the test, which was quite expensive. It took us time to go back to my hometown, because we were looking for transport. When we finally did after about three months, my health had really deteriorated. My CD4 count was at 151. I was therefore eligible for ART, but I did not start on treatment right away because I did not have money.
In April, my brother paid for my treatment at a monthly dose of shs70,000 (about USD$35). I was wasting away. I had a constant cough. In August 2004, I was referred to Kabale AIDS Information Centre, and still my brother was paying the same amount.
In 2005, I was enrolled on free drugs in Kisoro Hospital, where I also trained as a peer educator and joined the community drama group of people living with HIV. However, although antiretroviral drugs were free, clients still needed to pay for CD4 screening.
In early 2011, EGPAF – with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Strengthening TB and HIV/AIDS Response in the South-Western Region (STAR-SW) project came, and services in the hospital improved.
I am now able to get free drugs any time I need my prescription refilled, I do CD4 screenings every six months, and I have been enrolled into the hospital’s peer education program. I am really enjoying supporting fellow clients.
I also have a new man in my life; he is also HIV-positive and a peer educator. He is very nice, and we love each other. I introduced him to my parents, and although they had their reservations at first, they have since accepted him. When I mentioned that my husband and I were trying to have a baby, my parents just could not understand how I could get pregnant when I knew I was HIV-positive. I reassured them, saying that the counselors had told me that I could have an HIV-negative baby if I took the necessary precautions.
I requested that a Caesarean section be performed when I delivered; I had heard that there is a high probability that a baby can be infected with HIV during normal childbirth, so I wanted to avoid that. I also thought of not breastfeeding, but after delivering my son Trevor, my breasts felt very heavy, and I had the irresistible mother’s urge to breastfeed. (If you have ever breastfed before, you know what I mean!) I was advised to breastfeed exclusively, and I have faithfully done that.
Trevor was tested at six weeks and again at three months, and is HIV-negative. He is now six months old, and has started on supplementary feeding; I plan to go back to my doctor for advice on whether I should continue breastfeeding, and I will have Trevor tested once again.
Now that I have three HIV-free and healthy children, I feel God has been so good to me. My children are the reason I adhere to my treatment. I want to live longer to see them grow. I always tell those who have not been tested to consider it. I tell them, “Do not wait to fall sick first. The earlier you know, the better.” Things are better now. HIV services are now available and free of charge.
For people who have not disclosed their HIV-positive status, I always encourage them to come out openly. If I had not disclosed, I would not have gotten support from my brother. I never tire of giving my testimony publicly, because I believe I can help people live well and live positively, like I have. I know there is no better future than one of hope!
As a peer educator at the EGPAF-supported Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) program in Kisoro District Hospital, Afia counsels and encourages other mothers to know their HIV status. She shares her own success story to encourage other HIV-positive mothers to faithfully take their ARVs and live healthy lives. A member of the Kisoro Hospital Positive Living Drama group, Afia often shares her story to encourage others to accept and disclose their HIV-positive status. Kisoro Hospital offers a full complement of HIV and tuberculosis services within Maternal Child Health services, and has an active ART clinic. More women are now faithfullly attending the clinic after hearing stories about women like Afia who are HIV-positive but give birth to HIV-negative babies.