We had been seeing Mrs Z and her granddaughter in the clinic since last September. Mrs Z. has a job, but she and Tobeka arrive early, every fourth Wednesday morning to sit and wait their turn in the G25 Clinic at Groote Schuur Hospital, where children with HIV infections are seen as outpatients. On other days, when Mrs Z is at work, Tobeka's great grandmother takes care of her. Our women stand together against this disease.
Tobeka was born two months early and for a while she was nursed in our children's ward. She was just two weeks old when we heard that her mother had died of AIDS. From the outset, because she was often ill, we had thought of her as an infant that had acquired the HIV infection from her mother. The family had never known Tobeka's father.
We got to know Mrs Z well in those days. She visited her grandchild frequently and it was obvious that when the time came, she would be an excellent guardian. In due course, Mrs Z adopted Tobeka.
Two weeks ago, when I met Tobeka and her grandmother in the clinic waiting room, I was looking for photographs of children with their grannies. I was preparing a talk on HIV and AIDS for a women's club and I had been told that the membership was fairly elderly. Because so many grandmothers, and even a great grandmother - attend our clinics, I thought it would be a good idea to show the one group of grandmothers pictures of the other. I explained my mission to Mrs Z and got her permission to take a photograph for this purpose.
On the same morning, we decided that because Tobeka looked so well at seven months of age and showed so few signs of HIV infection, that we would do a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, on her blood. The PCR detects viral DNA in the blood and
if it is negative at six months of age, this test rules out HIV infection.Two weeks later, the test result was back. There were tears of happiness, because Tobeka had tested negative. She was free of the HIV infection.
When everyone had calmed down, I explained to Mrs Z that I wished to write their story up in a newspaper column, using pseudonyms of course. Mrs Z agreed. Then I mentioned the photograph: "I don't suppose you would let us print the photograph I took, would you? After all, it is a local paper and people might recognise you and know that your daughter died of AIDS." "No", she said, "I want you to use the photo other women must hear about this. My daughter used Nevirapine and I believe it worked. When other women see this picture and read the story, it might convince them that they should have themselves tested for the infection and they might also be able to protect their babies from HIV and death."
In South Africa HIV infection and AIDS are heavily stigmatised. This is Mrs Z's message: AIDS stigmatises because it kills. Agents such as Nevirapine provide hope that the next generation can be protected from AIDS-related death. Access to Nevirapine gives the majority of pregnant women enough reason to have themselves tested for HIV infection.
These are simple facts that any ordinary person can understand.
Only when every South African has access to anti-retroviral treatment, will the stigma around HIV and AIDS abate.
Our new product 'Ndebele cards' feature beautiful ethnic designs on beaded squares with a pin attached so you are buying more than just a card and your purchase is supporting a family affected by HIV/AIDS. The beadwork can be worn as a brooch or pinned to a bag. The cards are R20 each and can be ordered from firstname.lastname@example.org or inquiries to
+27 21 686 9710.