31 year old Thembi* settled down in a northern Johannesburg township of Cosmo City, and found work as a domestic worker. This job continued until 2008, when she was let go by her employer and sadly to date she has not been able to find employment since.
In October 2014, she decided to visit Witkoppen as she thought she was pregnant. Upon testing, it was revealed that she was in fact 2 months pregnant. As with every first-time visit, Thembi was asked to also test for HIV in the antenatal clinic. She had been having symptoms such as coughing up blood, but she had never been tested. She recalls, “before I was pregnant, I could tell there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t want to test for HIV. I thought, what’s the use? They will tell me I have HIV and I am going to die”. This is very common in patients we see at the clinic as well as during outreaches into the community. Many are terrified of HIV due to the health complications and stigma that go along with the disease, and they choose the denial route in order to deal with these psychological issues. Most of the time, education and support are the keys to solving these concerns and to help the patients understand that they can still have a bright future.
To Thembi’s disappointment, she did in fact test positive for HIV, and she began antiretroviral drug treatment immediately. Luckily, she had come to the right place. The phenomenal HIV counsellors, nurses, and health educators at Witkoppen Health & Welfare Centre supported her and gave her the courage to overcome this obstacle. Although she was scared and in disbelief, she began to trust her caregivers and this allowed for her mental and physical health to improved drastically. She gives these caregivers most of the credit, and thanks to Thembisile’s good antiretroviral drug adherence, she gave birth to a beautiful girl, Mbali*, free of HIV. When asked how this felt, she remembers, “it was the best day of my life, I was so thankful she was HIV free and healthy”.
Since her diagnosis, Thembi has taken on a new sense of maturity and responsibility. “Because now I’m thinking of my daughter”, she says, “I can’t have the mentality that I have HIV so I am going to give up and die. I must live a long life to see Mbali grow up, and I understand now that people with HIV can live long, healthy lives”. Mbali is now 18 months of age. At Wiktoppen babies attend at 3 days, 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 14 months, and 18 months of age for a total of 9 visits. During these visits, the mothers and babies receive vaccinations, HIV testing, health assessments, health education, psychosocial and nutritional support. Thembisile and Miranda attended all 8 of their visits and it was wonderful to see the mother and baby develop over this 18 month period. With every visit, the babies are bigger and smarter, and the mothers are more educated, mature, and responsible and, together the pair is indeed much healthier.
* Names have been changed.
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