Gertrude Mulima is a 24-year-old primary school teacher and the mother of an HIV-free baby girl, thanks to Dignitas International.
Each day, Gertrude teaches two subjects to her students, Chichewa (the local language in Malawi) and Social and Environmental Sciences. Some of her students find these subjects a bit challenging.
Gertrude’s biggest challenge came in 2007 when she was just seventeen. At the time, she had become quite ill and had been in and out of the hospital without any significant improvements. Then her aunt suggested that she get an HIV test.
“After they told me I was HIV+, I felt like my whole world was crumbling around me. I felt confused and dejected,” says Gertrude.
After receiving the difficult news, Gertrude joined the Teen Club program at Dignitas. There she found a community of support and a place to receive medical care.
“Teen Club made me strong,” she says, “I was with kids my own age who were learning to cope with the same medical condition. The counselling and support I received gave me the confidence I needed. Now I know that I can live a normal life if I stay on treatment.”
Through Teen Club, Gertrude found the strength she needed to manage her health. Years later, when Gertrude became pregnant with her first child, she knew that as an HIV+ woman, there was a risk that the virus would be passed on to her child. Gertrude was able to see clinicians trained by Dignitas to provide specialized care for pregnant women with HIV. Thanks to the program, Gertrude gave birth to healthy baby girl.
Today, Gertrude lives with her daughter Miranda in Zomba, a city in the southeast region of Malawi. Miranda’s father has been absent since Gertrude gave birth a year ago, despite the fact that they are legally married. “He lives in Blantyre some (60) kilometres away and we talk on the phone sometimes but he has not come to see little Miranda. I don’t know why he is missing out on his responsibilities and the joy of being with this beautiful baby but I’m too busy to worry about it. I am concentrating on the future. I want to be sure my little girl gets a good education. I am also upgrading my own academic qualifications.”
Gertrude lives in a rented hut about 7 miles from the centre of Zomba. The rental costs her 4, 000 Malawian Kwacha (about $11 CAD) a month. She finances herself with her government teacher’s salary. That’s her only source of livelihood. “My monthly earnings are K65, 000 (about $180 CAD) a month. With the money, I am also able to send my child to daycare.”
When asked if her earnings are enough to make ends meet, Gertrude simply giggles and shakes her head. This young woman has had some big challenges in her life and her easy attitude around life’s difficulties has made all the difference.
Since Gertrude first started HIV treatment as a teenager she has had no serious illnesses herself. By continuing to take HIV drugs on a daily basis and remaining in care, people with HIV are living longer and healthier lives. As a result, HIV has shifted from being a death sentence to a chronic disease that can be managed with quality health care.
Gertrude and Miranda are living proof that ‘treatment as prevention’ is working. By starting all HIV+ pregnant and breastfeeding women in Malawi on immediate and lifelong treatment, Dignitas is helping to ensure that mothers remain healthy and their babies are born HIV-free.
Informed by Dignitas’s research, Malawi was the first resource-limited country to make the decision to adopt this groundbreaking health policy in 2011. Today, more than 20 countries have adopted this bold strategy for building an AIDS-free generation.