Since her HIV diagnosis, Grace has overcome horrendous stigma and discrimination to start a new life operating a small business and looking after her grandchild.
In Uganda, a man has divorced his wife after she was diagnosed as living with HIV, despite having 12 children together.
Grace, 35, from Soroti in eastern Uganda was diagnosed after her daughter died of HIV and her own health started deteriorating. “I nearly went mad. I wanted either to commit suicide or to kill another person after the results were released,” she said.
When her husband learned of her status, he expelled her from the family home and she was forced to live in the nearby bush. According to her counsellor Joseph, it took him a long time to convince her there was hope to be had in living with HIV and advised her not to take her own life.
Accessing treatment is vital to keep Grace well and healthy, but it is a challenge. Grace complains that, along with two other HIV positive women, she has to walk 20km to get antiretroviral drugs from Soroti hospital.
Grace also narrated a shocking ordeal about being gang raped on several different occasions. She recalled one particular incident: “Early in 1989 three armed men gang raped me after demanding sex in vain. I refused to give them my dear love. The men then dragged me into the nearby bush. One stepped on my arms while the others spread my legs apart and they raped me in turns. The rapists later disputed among themselves whether to kill me or not while I lay in shock and in total pain.”
In Uganda many women suffer from the effects of gender-based violence and sexual harassment which can lead to HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies which in turn can result in their early death. Because of her HIV status Grace had been miserable initially, isolated from and mocked by the community, until she was helped to address the stigma she faced.
“Now I have overcome the stigma of HIV due to awareness raising by organisations in the area such as The Aids Support Organization (TASO) and Teso Women Peace Activists (TEWPA),” she said. Grace now operates a small restaurant in Tubur sub county. Her late daughter left behind a new born baby but fortunately the child was born HIV negative and currently lives in Grace’s custody.