On International Women’s Day, Luwiza Makukula – a Zambian grandmother and tuberculosis survivor – shares her story of recovery as a powerful reminder of the need to fund institutions like The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that support the world’s women.
Luwiza on Capitol Hill with RESULTS Senior Policy Associate, Crickett Nicovich. Photo credit: Angela Pereira
Listening to Zambian mother and grandmother Luwiza Makukula describe her time in hospital being treated for tuberculosis (TB) in addition to her HIV diagnosis, is uncomfortable but inspirational.
She quietly yet vividly describes a painful experience: The hopelessness of waking up every day to a toxic cocktail of ten pills, the frustration of losing her memory and ability to walk, the sadness of overhearing visitors say they didn’t expect to find her alive the following day.
I wish Luwiza’s story was unique.
Her experience is a harrowing one echoed across the hospital wards of the developing world – about one-third of the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide also have TB. In sub-Saharan Africa, women are disproportionately impacted by this deadly co-infection. In 2011, almost 60 percent of people living with HIV in the region were women – putting them at a much higher risk of contracting TB, which is a leading cause of death for women worldwide.
Luwiza credits her own recovery to the strength she drew from her children, and the knowledge that she was their sole caretaker: “I had the two children who were still very young at that time. I thought to myself: If I give up, what will happen to my children? That gave me courage because I was like a mother and father to them. They were depending on me.”
If her children were her courage, Luwiza says the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was her pathway to becoming healthy again. Four months into her costly treatment – the equivalent of $US 200 per month – the Zambian government introduced free ARVs through the Global Fund.
“Without [the Global Fund], I would not be here. Even my fellow Zambians would not be there. I am thankful for [the Global Fund], without which I couldn’t stand here and talk,” said Luwiza.
After her recovery, she started a 20-member support group for men and women living with HIV in Zambia, and now works with a local organization called the Community Initiative for TB, HIV/AIDS and Malaria (CITAM+). She has also started sharing her story globally; most recently, she was in Washington D.C. to discuss the importance of supporting the Global Fund with U.S. policy makers.
The United States provides one-third of the world’s funding to the Global Fund and is therefore essential to ensuring it can continue its work. When you see Luwiza give a statement on Capitol Hill, or hear her speak proudly of her two young grandchildren, it’s hard to imagine the dire situation she was once in. But she says it’s precisely that situation that drives her forward: “I know what TB can do to me. I know what it is to live with HIV. I have that understanding… and that’s what gave me a passion to speak for others who cannot.”
You can listen to Luwiza tell her story in the video below.
Kolleen Bouchane, Director of ACTION, a global partnership of advocacy organizations working to influence policy and mobilize resources to fight diseases of poverty and improve equitable access to health service, speaks on her interaction with Luwiza.
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