Zambia: One Woman's Story: From HIV-positive to positive about life (February 2006)


Mary-Gorretti Banda (known as "MG") is a service provider, outreach worker, and mentor all in one. She can most often be found at Minga Mission Hospital where she is an HIV/AIDS counselor and coordinator of three hospice wards while also leading a massive home-based care outreach effort. Her work is part of SUCCESS, a broad spectrum palliative care program supported by the Emergency Plan.

MG's past has brought her to this work. During her married life, her husband decided to take two more wives. MG, being first wife, was devastated by her husband's decision but had little choice in the matter, as local tradition allows men to have more than one wife. She decided to remain in her matrimonial home, despite being the least "loved" among the three wives, and rarely had sex with her husband. MG's husband became sick and eventually died of what seemed to be AIDS, and MG worried that she too could be infected. MG's two co-wives suffered from health symptoms similar to her late husband's, and within one year, both died. Would MG be next in line?

After the deaths, MG went for an HIV test and learned that she was HIV-positive. Her first reactions were fear, bitterness, depression, and denial. Watching HIV positive patients coming to Minga Hospital for help, however, MG soon wondered how she could assist them and herself. When the hospice program at Minga Hospital was launched, MG decided to take courses in counseling and testing and attend HIV/AIDS workshops, and she began to work in the hospice section of the hospital. Eventually she became Minga Hospital's home-based care coordinator as well as a counseling and testing advisor and hospice coordinator. MG now spends weeks on end in the field caring for others infected by HIV/AIDS just like herself, and she estimates that her counseling center can test as many as 200 people a month.

Mary-Gorretti Banda has truly transformed being HIV-positive into being positive about life. The Emergency Plan has made a difference for MG, who remarked, "Through my participation in the hospice and outreach activities, I have come to accept my status, take care of myself, and better understand the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

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