I Am An HIV-Positive Single Mother

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HIV-positive mother AfricaThis essay originally appeared on ONE as part of World AIDS Day awareness. This mother’s life and story are just one of many when illustrating the end of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT).

My name is Joyce Kamwana and I was 25 years old when I first found out I was HIV-positive. Today, I am 48 years old and have lived to see my daughters grow up and have also become a grandmother, thanks to the free treatment I have received through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. A few years before my husband, my baby daughter, and I were diagnosed in 1988, my husband had developed shingles and a boil, and my daughter often had various skin wounds, but we were not sure why. Three years after we tested positive for HIV, in 1991, my husband passed away and I was left to care for both my daughters single-handedly, having to act as a father and mother in one.

Sometimes infants test positive falsely while breastfeeding from an HIV-positive mother, so after I started treatment, I stopped breastfeeding my daughter Tracy and she was pronounced HIV-negative. No one thought I would live much longer than my husband. In those days there was no treatment available but I managed to survive for 15 years by adhering to a healthy diet and living positively. Fortunately, the Global Fund came to Malawi in 2004 and I was put on treatment.

After I was diagnosed with HIV, people were surprised that I talked publicly about my health issues. I decided I wanted to make a difference, so I became an activist to educate others about this disease and on how to live healthier lives. I have since worked on panel discussions on TV and radio, supervised HIV testing campaigns, and served as National Supervisor to the districts in Malawi during World AIDS Day. I wanted to contribute to society and help all those affected by this disease, so I also began training people living with HIV on how to find support groups and live positively.

I have also worked for the United Nations as a United Nations Volunteer on the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/ AIDS program, and in June 2006, I co-founded the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi.

I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had in the years of life and as a mother, and am particularly thankful for the Global Fund and the antiretroviral therapy it provided me. With its help, we can end mother-to-child transmission of HIV and transform the lives of many Malawians and the future of our country. I am now expecting another grandchild from my second daughter who was once HIV-positive. My daughter just took an HIV test for her pregnancy and it came out negative. My grandchild will be HIV-negative thus breaking the vicious cycle of HIV transmission.

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