When all three of Connie’s children fell ill in the 1980s she had a sneaking suspicion it was HIV, but like many who lived in sub-Saharan areas in Africa, decided to ignore it.
Three decades later, the mother who lost her three children to the disease works to make sure no parent sits silently by as she did.
HIV and AIDS still carry a stigma so strong in Zambia, where Connie lives, that many people choose not to get tested.
But when Connie and her husband fell ill, they decided to see if they were HIV positive. Their suspicions were correct; both tested positive and are now enrolled in the Kanyama Health Center, a clinic that offers free life-saving drugs. Connie now serves as an AIDS ambassador and peer counselor, testing people in the comfort of their own homes and helping them navigate their treatment options.
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Though she had to live through the ordeal of losing three children to HIV, Connie credits the work she does to the tragedy.
“If my children had lived, I don’t think I would’ve have the time to give encouragement to anyone, because I wouldn’t have had the experience,” she said in a video produced by (RED), an organization that fights AIDS. “I wouldn’t have the strength to give to a person. I think my life would be comfortable.”
According to (RED), 700 babies are born with HIV every day -- a number the organization believes can be reduced to zero by 2015 thanks to antiretroviral drugs.
The National Institutes of Health organization issued a statement on World AIDS Day, Sunday, Dec. 1 saying advances in antiretroviral therapy are of little value if HIV-infected individuals don’t get tested or do not know they are infected.
Those drugs can help prevent the passage of the virus from mother to child. A recently launched study called HPTN 071, or PopART, if examining whether offering expanded voluntary HIV testing with antiretroviral treatment and prevention services can reduce the number of new infections in South Africa and Zambia.
In Connie’s case, the treatments have been successful: in 2012, Connie gave birth to a healthy, HIV-negative baby, Lubona.
“I’ve been called upon to try and give encouragement to sick people and tell them there is still life,” she said. “They can get back on their feet. Give hope to the hopeless.”
Sources: Huffington Post, National Institute of Health