|© UNICEF Bolivia/2008|
|REDBOL is a UNICEF-supported foundation in Bolivia that gives support to people living with HIV.|
By Delina Garson
LA PAZ, Bolivia, 8 August 2008 – María Isabel is a courageous 23-year-old mother who is living with HIV/AIDS. After her son was born, there was fear that he might also be HIV-positive as well as some initial confusion about his status. Eventually, she María agreed to have him checked.
“When my son was a year-and-a-half, we did the Elisa test [an HIV detection test] and he was HIV-negative,” María said.
Thankful that her son had shown no signs of HIV, Maria returned to her hometown to seek the company of her family and start anti-retroviral treatment on her own.
Helping others cope
At La Paz hospital, Maria Isabel was approached by REDBOL staff (Red Nacional de Personas que viven con el VIH en Bolivia), a local foundation supported by UNICEF that helps people living with HIV through a series of support groups and other assistance.
“REDBOL support groups are very good at giving you hope to continue living,” said María Isabel, who at first felt very isolated. “There is a lot of discrimination in Bolivia against people living with HIV/AIDS, especially among the medical personnel because they are not prepared or they don’t have the knowledge. So when they find out your diagnosis, they simply refuse to help you.”
The more information María got about HIV/AIDS from REDBOL meetings, the more involved she became. She has been a volunteer for them for almost two years, counselling pregnant women about the importance of taking the HIV test as part of the regular prenatal care package as well as trying to achieve equality for everyone living with HIV/AIDS, especially women and children.
“The immense joy I felt motivated me to give advice on the prevention of vertical transmission and child nutrition for pregnant women based on my own experience.”
Children can be born virus-free
Early treatment within the first few months of life can dramatically improve the survival rates of children. The majority of the children living with HIV can be saved by timely administration of paediatric anti-retroviral treatment and cotrimoxazole, a low-cost antibiotic that has been shown to have a positive impact on HIV-positive children’s survival.
María Isabel often visits the maternity ward where HIV-positive mothers give birth, to show them a real example of someone living with HIV and to give them hope that their children can be born virus-free.
Maria Isabel advises: “You must go on because there is no turning back. One has to learn to accept it and live with HIV/AIDS. It’s not easy, but it can be done –and it must be done for our children.”
Lucia Rovi contributed to this story from New York.
29 July 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Lucia Rovi speaks with María Isabel, a courageous young mother living with HIV/AIDS who now volunteers to help others.