Today, I have four children. They are all HIV-negative. I live in a happy home.
The HIV-positive women we employ at mothers2mothers (m2m) are true Wonder Women—dedicating their lives to helping others come to terms with their HIV diagnosis and protecting their babies from infection, and making sure everyone in a family stays healthy and thrives. Today, on World AIDS Day, we would like to introduce you to one of these Wonder Women—Justine Nakirya, a Mentor Mother in Uganda.
In 2006, I was 12 weeks pregnant with my second child and had gone to the clinic for a routine checkup. The nurses advised me to test for HIV but I was reluctant. I saw people who suffered from HIV being brought back to my village to die.
I was tested and the results came back HIV-positive. In a flash, my world fell apart. Suddenly I was a walking grave. I was worried that I would pass the virus to my baby and how long she would live. I was also scared of how other women at the well would treat me after they found out I was HIV-positive.
The nurses didn’t have much time to spend with me, but they told me that I was very sick. I had a rash all over me. I had to start treatment or else I would die and give birth to an infected baby. With support from my husband, I took the medication on time – every day. Soon, the rash on my body started to clear. I didn’t look like I had HIV at all and that gave me courage to tell people about it.
A few months later, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl whom I named Mirembe Faith. I was overjoyed when she was tested HIV-negative.
I met mothers2mothers (m2m) in October 2010 when they were hiring women living with HIV as health workers at my local clinic. m2m is an Africa-based non-profit that employs, trains, and helps empower HIV-positive women as Mentor Mothers to work in understaffed health centers and communities. They educate and support other women and families on HIV and other critical health issues. At that time my only income was from helping other people plough their gardens so this was a welcome opportunity.
I had already been living with HIV for four years and I thought I knew all there was to know about the virus. But, at m2m, I learned so much more about what women and families need to do to protect their children from HIV infection and stay healthy. Finally, I understood that the blood tests I did when I was pregnant measured my CD4 count, which showed how well my immune system was working, and how dangerous it was to have a low CD4 count as I did when I was very sick.
I realized how lucky I was to have a husband who supported me to take my medication. That is not the case for all women in my community. Some women do not have a lot of say at home, and they fear they will be abandoned or abused if their partners find out their status. As a result, they tell no one and do not take the lifesaving medication. I wanted to pass all the information I had to every single person I met so I could save lives, and support other women to disclose to their families, take their medication, and live positively as I have.
Today, I have four children. They are all HIV-negative. I live in a happy home. In Uganda, where I come from, it is customary for husbands to have more than one wife. But my husband understands that I am his only wife and I help him provide for our family. I achieved all of this because I am empowered—not just financially—but with knowledge too.
Wonder Women, like Justine, need heroes too. Mentor Mothers have courage, patience, and warm, loving hearts. What they don’t have are all the funds they need to end pediatric AIDS and promote health for the families in their communities.
Take Action Challenge
This World AIDS Day, please be a hero and support m2m’s Wonder Women so they can bring health and hope to even more women and families.