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Tigist Mekonen was married with three children when she began to feel unwell. Sickness came in waves and Tigist, a fruit seller in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, found it increasingly difficult to find the energy to get through each day.
Already struggling to make ends meet, Tigist was worried that illness might prevent her from working. She heard about the Daughters of Charity clinic and decided to attend. It was here that Tigist discovered she was living with HIV.
Photo: Tigist Mekonen with her 2 year old baby Tariku who’ s HIV free thanks to Trócaire partners Daughters of Charity.
The diagnosis did not sit well with her husband, Tesfay, who disappeared for five months upon hearing the news. Tigist had urged him to get tested but he refused, saying he would prefer not to know his status.
Eventually, Tesfay returned and, two years after finding out she was HIV positive, Tigist became pregnant.
“The pregnancy came as a shock,” she says. “It was not planned and all I could do was pray to God not to make the child HIV positive like me. I received counselling from the Daughters of Charity clinic and they told me it was possible that my baby could be HIV negative if I followed their advice. But I was afraid to believe them.
” I was overjoyed when I got the news that Tariku was HIV negative.”
“I followed all the advice from the clinic and breast feed my baby up to six months only. I went through all the check-ups and was overjoyed when I got the result that Tariku, now aged 2 years and eight months, is HIV negative.”
Tesfay has since left the marriage, leaving Tigist alone with four children to raise. With the support she is receiving from the Daughters of Charity, a partner organisation of Trócaire, Tigist is doing better than ever. She is receiving treatment which ensures that she can live a full life despite her HIV status and has also started her own business.
“If it were not for the project, I would have been on the street begging by now,” she says. “I was lucky to be included in an income generating scheme run by the Daughters of Charity. I was given 2500 Birr to start a business selling Injera [a local food]. My business is doing well and helps me pay the rent and feed my children.
“I thank those who helped me stay alive. I am grateful that I am able to look after my children; I am so indebted.”
In Ethiopia, only 8% of positive women can access treatment to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. With treatment the risk of transmitting HIV from parent to child can be reduced by over 95%. In Ireland and other developed countries we have virtually eliminated mother to child transmission of HIV. It is possible and cost effective to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV in low and middle income countries with the right level of funding and the political will.