World AIDS Day is deeply emotional for me. In Lusaka, Zambia, people gather at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus for a candlelight service to remember loved ones killed by AIDS. I go to light candles and pray for my three children who died in the nineties, when a diagnosis of HIV here was a death sentence. One after the other I lost all of my children; first my son Chabala, then my daughters, Lubona and Namuya. All of us here looked on helplessly as our children, parents and friends were killed because medicine that was saving the lives of people with HIV in the West was too expensive to get to us. When antiretroviral medication (ARVs)finally arrived through the work of organizations like the Global Fund and PEPFAR, it was too late for my family. My eldest daughter would have been 19 this year if she had been able to hold on.
The only reason I'm alive now is because 10 years ago, the world decided to do something about this pandemic which has by now killed 30 million of us. For 8 years I've been taking 2 little pills a day which have turned my illness from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease. I always say I'm married to my medication -- until death do us part. I've been more faithful to these pills than to anything else in my life.
I vowed I would never have another child. Instead, I threw myself into working with the clinic that was providing my medication. I became a counselor, teaching others the importance of adhering to their daily dose of medicine. For the last two years I've been visiting people in their homes and giving them HIV tests. I love my work and I love helping people to overcome the stigma of this disease and to get on with their lives. ARVs are remarkable. They allow you to live a normal life, and they also carry another miracle -- they virtually eliminate the chance of mothers passing the HIV virus on to their babies. And now the world has an opportunity -- to ensure, by 2015, that virtually no baby in the world is born with HIV. If this happens, it will not only be a hugely symbolic milestone, but it will also be one of the milestones marking the beginning of the end of this devastating disease.
This year, I received my own surprise diagnosis -- of pregnancy. On Wednesday last, I gave birth to a beautiful girl, who I named Lubona in honor of the older sister she will never get to meet. Whilst we have to wait for some months before we know for sure that my baby is HIV free, it's an incredible feeling to know it's almost certain she will be because I had access to treatment during this pregnancy. I am so grateful that ten years after losing all of my children, I have been given the gift of motherhood again -- I really didn't think this was going to happen.
This World AIDS Day I will have two prayers -- that, by 2015 no mother ever has to pass this deadly virus on to her baby again and that Lubona will live in an AIDS free world.
This blog post was produced by The Huffington Post and (RED) as part of a series recognizing World AIDS Day, which is December 1. Click here to see other posts in the series and here to see content from "The Big Push" (the initiative by the Global Fund, the recipient of (RED) monies, to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria). For more information about how you can get involved on World AIDS Day, please go to www.joinred.com/worldaidsday.
To learn more of Constance's story, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJMA6ddEB3w.