On Huffington Post: To Defeat HIV – We Must Do More for Women and Girls

Original post accessible on Huffington Post
By Clara Banya, Member, Global Fund Advocates Network Speakers Bureau

There is nothing wrong with having HIV. I tell people that I love myself and that I am not less because of HIV. And as an HIV advocate, I help other women living with HIV deal with the disease, and make sure they know that it is not the end of the world. People make you feel shame, they have preconceived ideas about how you contracted it. But I am not ashamed! As someone who has benefited from the support of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, I know there’s life beyond diagnosis and I want other women to know they are not alone.

Sadly, many women in Malawi are chased out of their homes by their spouses after they have disclosed that they have HIV. It took me three months to tell my husband after I found out I had HIV, but when I did, he was very supportive. I was so relieved.

So here in my country, I work with other advocates at the International Community of Women with HIV to empower women to make informed decisions around condom use, to report to the authorities if they feel their rights have been abused, to seek medical attention when they get sick, and to teach them the importance of being economically empowered.

I hope that my daughter Fanny’s experiences will be better than for most women living with HIV, and that she will live in a world with less stigma and discrimination. I had her when prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) was just being introduced in Malawi as a pilot project, so I did not have a chance to be part of the programme. I was so heartbroken when I found out that she was HIV positive.

Growing up with HIV was tough for Fanny, as she often had infections. When child HIV protocols were finally put in place in Malawi, she started treatment. After that, we saw a drastic change in her health. She started to live life as any other child; she wasn’t constantly ill and her school grades improved because she wasn’t missing classes any more.

Fanny is a sweet girl full of life and is very ambitious. Now, at 12 years old, she is a class representative and dreams of being a doctor. She likes dancing, swimming and cooking – the opposite of her mother’s character!

The constant pains that we all have gone through over the years has made the bond between us stronger than I could imagine, and she considers me as one of her best friends and her confidant. But as she matures into adulthood, I want her to grow into an independent woman, empowered with life skills and education so that she is able to make informed decision about her future.

Over the years, antiretroviral treatment through The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has helped my family and many others live through HIV. Deaths from HIV and HIV infections have significantly reduced over the past 10 years in Malawi. But while there are over one million people today living with HIV in my country – and more than half of those are women – only half of them are on treatment.

Not only this, but there are a number of other issues that need addressing. In Malawi, it’s difficult to access medication due to lack of availability and inaccessibility to medical centres – they are so few and far between. We must strengthen our health systems. Also, stigma and discrimination in accessing sexual and reproductive health services is a real stumbling block for many women living with HIV. This is why the Global Fund is so important to Malawi to help address these gaps and allow as many people as possible to access treatment.

Everyone living with HIV deserves a good quality of life. We should be able to contribute to our families and our nation. To do this, we need the right support at the right time. I am so thankful that my daughter and many other young girls will now have the opportunity to do this and realise their dreams.

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