My name is Agness. I’m 32 years old and live in Mtendere, a township in Lusaka, Zambia. In 2002, I received some devastating news: I was diagnosed with HIV. After learning my status, I felt very scared and alone. With a two-year-old daughter to look after I was worried what my diagnosis would mean for me and my family. When my daughter began getting sick, I feared the worst. My friends encouraged me to take her to the clinic where she was examined and tested for HIV. When her results came back positive, I felt like my family was falling apart.
Fortunately, I live in a community where HIV and AIDS care and treatment services are available for me and my daughter. I attended a local clinic to receive medical treatment and improve my health. One day when I needed to go to the clinic for more medicines, my daughter asked if she could come along. At the clinic, she saw how I accessed drugs and so I explained to her that I was HIV-positive and that I needed to take the drugs to stay healthy to play with her every day. Now she makes it a point to remind me to take my drugs so I can do that!
I also started attending psychosocial support group meetings for HIV-positive young adults to help cope with the disease. Meetings are coordinated by Africa Directions, a local community organization that provides HIV counseling, testing, and psychosocial support services in partnership with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
I thought I was alone, but learned through these meetings that there were others just like me who were going through the same things. The burden I carried soon felt lighter. One of those I met at these psychosocial support group meetings was Patrick. He and I were married in 2007.
My daughter also began attending support group meetings for HIV-positive children. Meetings are led by child mentors like Sam, and focus on empowering children and helping them to live healthier lives. The support group helps my daughter build confidence and self-esteem. As part of the pediatric program, our family receives regular visits at our home to learn about adherence to medications and how best to take care of our daughter.
Today, my family is thriving. Both my husband Patrick and I are on treatment and doing well. My CD4 count has improved from 199 to 714 – a normal amount for a healthy adult. Patrick is now a peer counselor, helping other people living with HIV and AIDS to learn how to cope with the virus. My daughter is nine years old and healthy; she takes medicines to prevent opportunistic infections to ward off HIV and keep the virus in check. We even have a new addition to our family – a three-year-old son who is HIV-negative thanks to medicines that prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Today I am open about my HIV status and comfortable sharing it with others. I want other people to know they’re not alone with HIV, and that there are prevention, care, and treatment services available to help families stay healthy – just like mine.