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March 2014 News

Johanna Satekge: Why You Should Never Give Up

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Hlengiwe Lwandle: Beating the Odds

Seventeen years ago I lived in a beautiful rural village in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, where the houses had thatched roofs, and the landscape is dotted with huge rocks and stubby trees.
Hlengiwe
I was newly wed and found out that I was pregnant, but unfortunately lost the baby. This really troubled me and I wanted to know why I lost the baby. Meanwhile, my husband had been diagnosed with TB and pneumonia. Even though I had no information about HIV, I did suspect he had AIDS.
That was a very difficult time for people with HIV. A woman in my area had been stoned to death after disclosing her status. But I couldn’t just keep suspecting. I had to know. So one day I was visiting my husband in the hospital, I saw an HIV testing centre so I went in and asked to be tested.
I was devastated when I tested positive. I feared for my life.
My biggest problem was how I was going to tell my in laws, especially because I knew how my mother-in-law absolutely hated people with HIV. She called it “prostitute sickness.” As I already expected, the news had terrible consequences on my relationship with my husband’s family. My mother-in-law accused me of all sorts of things, even having an affair.
Because I had the support of my doctor who monitored my health, even bought groceries for me, I somehow managed to cope. I had to keep going so I made it my business to find out everything about HIV.
I got pregnant again and a year later gave birth to my healthy boy who just enjoyed biting into my breast and laughing at me when I screamed with pain.
Time came for me to test my son, now that was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. The results came back – they were negative.
But the news about my husband was not as good. He was denying he was sick enough for TB drugs and refusing treatment. He died at our home.
After his death, I went back to my own family for a while, but my heart was back at that village. I had seen what HIV had done to the community. The women were mostly illiterate, from polygamous marriages and were dying like flies. They were going for HIV testing but refusing to be told the results.
I was only one of two women who actively got their results and came out about their status. I wanted to do something about that. My dream was to empower women to do what I did — stand up for themselves.
My chance came when mothers2mother was hiring staff for a new site at a local clinic. It had been eight years since I first found out my status. I was determined to live for my son while keeping my mother-in-law on her toes. I applied for the job and have been working for mothers2mothers even since.
My job is to drive women to dig deeper and find inner strength to stand up for themselves. I encourage them to search for the latest facts about HIV and get more information on the latest treatments.
In the eight years I have worked with mothers2mothers, I’ve seen a steady decrease in transmission of HIV from mother to child. In the hospital where I work now, we hardly ever have a baby testing positive at six weeks. I continue to encourage women to test their babies and keep taking their treatment.
My dream for the future is a world in which women beat all odds stacked against them by HIV and the physical and emotional abuse that it brings. And I want to live in a world where there is zero transmission from mothers to babies.

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