Written by Clara, Malawi
I tested positive for HIV in 2004. I was working in a HIV counselling centre and I noticed that I was experiencing some of the same symptoms as my patients. I gathered the courage to sneak home an HIV test and tested myself, and my baby, in private.
When I first discovered my HIV status, aged 25, I was worried that I might die. But I was also filled with anger, and a determination to fight back. I refused to leave my child motherless.
At first, my doctor refused to put me on HIV treatment because I did not outwardly appear sick, but inside I felt I was draining away. I lost stamina to the point that I could not lift up my one-year-old daughter.
I had to travel 400km to get my immune system levels tested. When the test showed how weak my immune system was, I was allowed to begin HIV treatment.
HIV affects all of aspects of your life. It is not just about you, but your loved ones as well.
My husband and my daughter, who are also HIV positive, both suffered from drug-resistant TB. As a wife and mother who was nursing them, I experienced the horror of dealing with this killer disease. And every time I got the flu, I thought I might be next.
Social stigma and gender inequality compound the impact of HIV in Malawi. I have worked with many women whose husbands blame them for bringing HIV into the home and divorce them when they find out they are HIV positive. And even though it is now illegal, some communities still practice ‘sexual cleansing’ where a woman must have sex as a cleansing ritual after becoming a widow.
I’ve faced stigma myself. When my community first found out about my status, my own neighbour would not talk to me. But when she was sick and needed help, I was the one who took her to hospital.
My experience made me want to help others – to stop them from going through the same struggle. Thanks to funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, I have been able to access free lifesaving medicine and my life is very different than it could have been.
Thanks to the medicine, I also have a second child – who is HIV negative.
Now I am channelling my energies into helping others.
I am the National Coordinator of International Community of Women Living with HIV, Malawi Chapter. I help others who are in similar situations to the one I was in 14 years ago. My work is about helping women living with HIV address the challenges they face in their own lives and also campaigning on national issues to make sure the Malawian Government deliver on their health commitments.
My story is not just one of ill-health, but one that shows how women are taking charge of their own destinies. Working together we can create change so that my daughter, and all our daughters, will not face the same challenges that I did.
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