One by one, each of Connie’s three children died before her eyes in the 1980s from a relentless disease she had suspected was HIV, but didn’t have the “courage” at the time to find out.
Today, the grieving mother is working to make sure that no parent makes the same tragic decision.
In Zambia, where Connie lives, and other parts of the sub-Saharan Africa -- HIV and AIDS still carry a pervasive stigma, a stigma so strong that it keeps people from even getting tested.
Once Connie’s husband fell ill, the two felt that they had no choice but to find out if they were infected. They both tested positive.
The pair enrolled in the Kanyama Health Center, a clinic that offers free life-saving drugs –- a decision that has kept Connie alive and has also helped her find a new purpose.
Connie now serves as an AIDS ambassador and peer counselor. She tests people in the comforts of their own homes and helps them navigate their treatment options.
“If my children had lived, I don’t think I would’ve have the time to give encouragement to anyone, because I wouldn’t have had the experience,” she said in a video produced by (RED), an organization that fights AIDS. "I wouldn’t have the strength to give to a person. I think my life would be comfortable."
While antiretroviral drugs are now more readily available, and can help prevent mothers from passing on the disease to their unborn children, 700 babies are born with HIV every day, according to (RED).
It’s an overwhelming statistic that the organization believes can be reduced to zero by 2015.
Connie is an example of just how possible that is.
In 2012, she gave birth to a healthy, HIV-negative baby, Lubona.
“I’ve been called upon to try and give encouragement to sick people and tell them there is still life,” she said. “They can get back on their feet. Give hope to the hopeless.”
Yes, you can also help wipe AIDS off the face of the planet. And there’s no better time to get involved than this instant as we usher in World AIDS Day today. Find out what you can do here.
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