Nozi Samela was 19 and six months pregnant when she was tested positive for HIV/AIDS at a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. She, like hundreds of others, woke up at the crack of dawn for days to wait in line at the hospital, hoping and praying that she’d be one of the first in line as the hospital only tended to the first 30 people waiting. After days of trying, she was finally able to get a routine prenatal checkup. It was then that she was offered an HIV/AIDS test, which came out positive.
Feeling scared and hopeless, she went to a mothers2mothers (m2m) center at the suggestion of a nurse. Upon arriving, she was bewildered to see several HIV-infected mothers laughing and joking around with each other. She wondered how these women could possibly express joy when they knew they were infected with HIV/AIDS. Through the m2m program those same women showed Samela that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence. They taught her everything she needed to know about living with the disease, and helped her muster up the courage to disclose her status to her family. In June 2005, Samela gave birth to a healthy boy, born free of the disease.
Samela was so inspired by those women she applied to be a mentor mother at m2m so she could help other expecting mothers infected with the disease. She is now a m2m site coordinator in South Africa.
She shared her story at a recent briefing sponsored by mothers2mothers and Management Sciences for Health (MSH) on Capitol Hill. Samela was joined by other HIV/AIDS advocates who stressed the importance of American leadership in reaching goals to end the epidemic. With the right support, we could see the elimination of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV by 2015.
Robin Smalley, International Director and co-founder of mothers2mothers, explained that while every day one child is born with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and Europe, 1,000 children are born with the disease in Africa daily. Half of those children will die before their second birthday. She explained that we have the tools and knowledge to eradicate pediatric HIV/AIDS by 2015, and all that’s needed to achieve this goal is political will and commitment.
Ambassador Mark Dybul, former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Global Health Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute, explained that even in this economic downturn, we can balance our budgets while working with the people on the ground to ensure that we reach our goals. He went on to say that healthy women, healthy families, and healthy and stable communities are better for us as a nation, and that providing a woman with HIV/AIDS care can lead to caring for the whole person, family, and community in the long run.
Dr. Gloria Sangiwa, Director of Technical Quality Innovation at MSH, explained that support from the U.S. government has helped to save millions of lives, and further support will help to eliminate the deadly disease altogether. She said that although it’s an ambitious call to end pediatric HIV by 2015, we have the means necessary to reach this important goal.
Republican Senator John Boozeman of Arkansas agreed with Dr. Sangiwa by saying that we can fix this seemingly insurmountable problem if the Western world decided to roll up its sleeves and make a commitment to ending this disease. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut expressed that it is our responsibility as a nation to help protect mothers and children from this disease, as a global health problem inevitably becomes an American problem.
Watch this short video created by Johnson&Johnson on eliminating pediatric HIV/AIDS by 2015.