May 3, 2016

Why Africa’s HIV crisis continues to devastate young women

Written by Michael Gerson

This post originally appeared on the Washington Post.

Mary, who is 24 but looks barely 18, has already experienced more than enough betrayal for any lifetime. Shyly but deliberately, she told of feeling sick at 16 and being diagnosed with HIV. After her mother — her only provider — was sent to prison, an aunt took Mary in, but forced her to sleep in an open-walled shed behind the house. Then she was raped by a boyfriend. “I went home crying and bleeding,” she recalled. Mary told no one, fearing she would be turned out on the street. “I kept quiet, by myself.” Four months later, she learned she was pregnant.

For the sake of the child — a girl born HIV-free — she took antiretroviral drugs. But then a friend introduced her to a Christian pastor. “He lays his hands on you and says the sickness will go,” Mary remembered. “I believed him.” She put her medicines down the toilet and stopped treatment for two years.

Last year, Mary got married and initially did not reveal her medical history to her spouse, fearing another rejection. “It is difficult to stand up and say you are positive,” Mary explained. “It was my secret.” But a counselor persuaded her to be tested again along with her husband. When her test came back positive and his negative, she ran crying from the clinic, convinced she would be abandoned. But her husband followed after her. “He said to me, ‘This is not the end of the world.’”

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