Hesperian Health Guides
Chapter 7: Prevention of HIV in children and mothers
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When Gideon’s sister Tanya turned 17, she moved to the city to find work. Life was difficult there, and many girls like Tanya got help from older men. Now 19 years old, Tanya faces a crisis.
Tanya went to the clinic when she had missed her period for a few months. There she learned all at once she was pregnant and had HIV. Scared and upset, she remembered how her family suffered when her mother died from AIDS, leaving her sister Charity orphaned at a young age. But the doctor told her not to be afraid, that treatment could give her a long and healthy life, and a healthy baby. He encouraged Tanya to tell her boyfriend and also told her about a support group where she could talk to other women in the same situation. And he told her to return to the clinic the next week to start treatment.
Tanya thought angrily about Godfrey, her former boyfriend, who must have given her HIV. Once glad for his help, she now wished they had never met! She was so guilty and afraid for her baby too. So many babies died from HIV. What did that doctor know about HIV and babies anyway!
That week, she could not tell Sam, her boyfriend. Instead, she acted like everything was fine, even though it was not.
When she returned to the clinic, Tanya confessed to the doctor she had not told Sam about the HIV or the pregnancy. He reminded her about the support group and said the women in it would help her. Tanya decided to go.
At the group, she met Jeanette, a woman who also had struggled to tell her boyfriend about testing positive. Jeanette explained how she did it, and advised, “If he loves you, he may stand by you. Even if he becomes angry, he may come around. You must try.”
It took all her courage to tell Sam. He was quiet at first. He just clenched his fists and looked away. Then he began to shout: “How can this be? What did you do? Get out! I cannot stand to look at you!”
Tanya ran out of the house weeping. She did not know where to go or what to do. She finally went to a friend’s place and told her Sam had gotten drunk and threatened to beat her so she left. Her friend let her spend the night.
Sam, alone in their room, was confused. He was still angry, but also afraid for Tanya and for himself. He was worried he might have HIV too. He had loved and trusted Tanya and didn’t understand how this could happen. The next day he woke up lonely and sad. He could not get Tanya out of his mind.
He decided to talk to his cousin. Tombe had HIV, and Sam had not seen him much since he told the family he had HIV, when Sam’s uncle said that Tombe was no longer his son, or anyone’s cousin or nephew for that matter. Sam had respected Tombe, though, and missed his friendship
Tombe heard Sam’s story and said, “Yes, you have gotten some really bad news. No matter what happens, your life will no longer be the same. Maybe you have HIV, maybe not. But you love that girl, and you know it’s really not her fault. She had another boyfriend before you, just like you had someone before her. And that guy probably gave her HIV, just like you could have gotten HIV before too. But it is not the end of the world. People live with HIV now, like me. You would never know I have HIV except for those ignorant members of my family who turned me out.”
Sam realized he felt bad about avoiding his cousin just because he had HIV. He did not want to do that to Tanya.
Tombe continued, “And that baby is surely yours — don’t you want to know who it will be? You should talk to Tanya and decide how to handle this.”
Sam said maybe he could cope with the situation; at least he could try. He went home and called Tanya and said they could go to the clinic together.
The doctor told Sam he should not assume he had HIV just because Tanya did. And he explained that even though Tanya was HIV-positive, her baby did not have to be. If Tanya took her medications, took care of her health in other ways, and continued to come to the clinic, it was very likely her baby would be HIV-negative. Sam’s help would make a big difference.