|© UNICEF Tanzania/2007|
|Women in Tanzania are often financially dependent on their husbands, making them especially vulnerable to stigma and other hardships if they are HIV-positive.|
By Dominick Mwita
KIGAMBONI, Tanzania, 26 September 2007 – Dalila (not her real name), is a 38-year-old single mother who is living with HIV. Caring for both herself and her year-old daughter is a load she can barely carry.
“I almost gave up on life following my test,” she says, adding that the initial shock and sense of hopelessness is now behind her.
Dalila has experienced economic hardship as a result of being sick and trying to raise her daughter.
“I ran out of cash because the expenses suddenly shot up,” she laments.
Thankfully, Dalila is receiving support and counselling at the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMCTC) programme, piloted by the Tanzanian Government and UNICEF.
A new lease on life
Dr. Teresia Idiva of the Kigamboni Medical Centre says the programme has given a new lease of life to many women who are living with HIV. Women at the centre receive counselling and drugs for prevention of opportunistic infections. Antiretroviral medicines are administered to both the mother and her newborn.
“We have been able to help prevent infection of the HIV virus from mother to child by administering [antiretrovirals],” explains Dr. Idiva.
Many Tanzanian women like Dalila find it difficult to survive while living with HIV. Women and children can become exceptionally vulnerable due to the stigma they face. Dalila says that when she informed her boyfriend about her status, he just laughed it off.
“Husbands rarely accompany their spouses to clinics, counselling or testing sessions. Sadly enough, they are usually not ready to accept that their wives have tested positive for HIV/AIDS,” says Dr. Idiva.
Additionally, many women don’t have a separate source of income and many are left destitute if their husbands abandon them. Dalila had to survive on handouts since she could not generate enough income through her mandazi (bun) frying business.
“Most women find themselves without husbands or homes the moment they declare that they are HIV positive,” says Dr. Idiva.
A reason to go on
Dalila first discovered she was living with HIV at the Kigamboni centre last year. At the time, she was five months pregnant. PMCTC lab assistant Maimuna Awadh counselled Dalila and encouraged her to go on.
“She made me realize that I still had a life worth living,” Dalila recalls. “My child gives me more reason to keep going.”
Dalila is optimistic that her daughter, who has also received antiretroviral treatment, will grow to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Despite many hardships, Dalila herself has mastered enough courage and knowledge to counter the stigma she unfortunately has to face.