Photo Credit: @angelina_namiba/Twitter.com
Angelina Namiba received her HIV diagnosis in 1993. When she received this news, the world was treating it like a death sentence. It was not unusual for doctors to tell their patients that they’d have six months to live.
Namiba defied those odds and now lives in London. She’s celebrated 55 birthdays and is quite proud of that fact.
In 1993, she wasn’t so confident. Namiba decided to take a job that could keep her busy so that her mind wouldn’t go down the rabbit hole of uncertain possibilities with her diagnosis. She started working for a health authority and volunteering for a local HIV charity.
After 29 years of living, Namiba is now a mother who is one of the co-founders of the 4M Mentor Mothers Network. This group works with women who receive an HIV diagnosis to find ways they can mentor mothers who find themselves in the same situation Namiba was in so long ago.
Having a Child Was a Life-Changing Experience
Before antiviral treatments were available for HIV, it was possible for a mother to pass it to her child. Namiba says that she draws on her experiences of becoming a mother in 1998 when she had a daughter to help others in a similar situation. “By the time I had my child,” she said, “we had effective antiretroviral treatments that meant I didn’t pass the virus on to my daughter or partner.” []
About 40 million people currently live with human immunodeficiency virus. It attacks a person’s critical immune defense cells, eventually overwhelming the system. Without treatment, an infection starts to cause symptoms in approximately eight to ten years. Once symptoms occur, HIV transitions to AIDS, or HIV Disease. []
Namiba says that an HIV-positive pregnancy heightens all the anxiety and worry new mothers face. Through her mentoring network, women can speak with others who have already dealt with those challenges. Having access to this information and past experiences makes it much easier to achieve successful outcomes.
Namiba’s mentorship network is led by women who come from refugee and migrant backgrounds. The mentors work to help new moms manage the complex emotions of their HIV diagnosis while preparing them for the unique challenges and rewards that come with their pregnancies.
Alice Welbourn is one of the new mothers in Namiba’s program. “She is a true leader and immensely loved and respected by all of us,” she said. “Angelina is an incredible woman who makes real lemonade out of lemons for all around her.”
The Mentorship Network Hosts Workshops About HIV
Namiba and her mentors work with women to help them understand when and how to ask for mental health support. If a new mother requires assistance in starting their treatment or dealing with side effects, someone is there to walk with them through that journey.
4M Mentor Mothers are also working hard to change the perspectives of others about HIV. As Namiba says, someone living with this virus is still a regular person. “People want to put you in a box and see whether you did something wrong,” she says. Her goal is to show women that it is more important to live their lives than worry about what other people think about their circumstances.
If that’s the example she wants others to follow, that means she must set the tone herself. That’s why she is always open about her HIV diagnosis. “I know people who were thrown out of their homes because of their status… We can show the world that people living with HIV are regular people.”
Namiba says that societal stigmas prevent people from getting tested, accessing treatment, and staying with a treatment plan.
Although perspectives have changed and HIV treatments no longer make it a death sentence, more work is needed to help people. Most heterosexual men and all women living with HIV are diagnosed late, sometimes after their immune systems have become damaged by the virus. It’s a disease that can affect anyone. []
HIV is still a lifelong infection, but it is controllable and treatable. Namiba hopes to help many new mothers understand that fact.
[] The people making a difference – the woman breaking down stigma for mothers with HIV | Life and style | The Guardian; [] HIV/AIDS Signs, Symptoms, Prevention, Stages & Treatment (emedicinehealth.com) ; [] Planning a pregnancy with HIV | Tommy's (tommys.org); [] HIV now infects more heterosexual people than gay or bisexual men – we need a new strategy | Ian Green | The Guardian