Real Stories: The choice between life and death

Every great photograph I’ve taken has been nothing short of a gift. It’s someone boldly opening a window into their life allowing me to capture and share their story with the world. The bravery of absolute strangers who invite me into the most intimate truths about their existence astounds me. Recently, I encountered another such hero, Princess.

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I met Princess during a morning thunderstorm in Monrovia, Liberia. As the rain hammered on the tin roof above, Princess recounted her story of growing up as a refugee in Ghana during the war. She eventually became very ill, but doctors couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Some said malaria, others said TB, but nothing made her better.

When she finally returned to Liberia and visited JFK Hospital, she discovered that she was HIV positive. Thanks to the Global Fund, she was able to immediately begin antiretroviral treatment (ART), which drastically improved her health.

But two years later, she defaulted and quickly deteriorated again. Her mother brought her back to the hospital. During her appointment the nurse grabbed a piece of paper and wrote “death” and “life.”

“Pick one,” she commanded. She adhered to the treatment program ever since. Soon thereafter she became pregnant and enrolled in the PMTCT program. Nine months later she gave birth to a healthy, HIV-free baby boy.

Thanks to the Global Fund, 4,800 people like Princess in Liberia receive ART. Access to PMTCT services has improved dramatically in the past few years with government reforms. In 2008, only 28 health facilities offered PMTCT services; over the last 3 years, that number has increased to 156 clinics, health centers and hospitals offering PMTCT services to HIV-positive mothers. With the proposed new national scale up plan, the MOHSW aims to reach 80 percent of pregnant women in 2015.