My name is Wilbroda Akuro. I am a 26-year-old woman from Nairobi. I am also HIV-positive.
When I was 20, I met my first love and it felt like everything was possible. But things changed when I became pregnant in 2015 and he told me to get an abortion.
I didn’t understand why – we were in love and I felt we could embark on this new journey together. Then I found out that he had gotten another woman pregnant.
I knew her, and she was five months pregnant, while I was three months along. I felt so betrayed and hurt – I didn’t want anything to do with him and most of all, I didn’t want his baby.
I remember sitting in a makeshift clinic where an unqualified doctor asked me three times if I was sure I wanted to end the pregnancy.
The first two times I said yes. But, the third time, I suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore. I went back home and my boyfriend kicked me out.
My sister took me in but I kept quiet about the pregnancy as I knew she would be ashamed. When I was five months pregnant, I visited a clinic for antenatal care.
Once again, my life was turned upside down as I found out I was HIV-positive. I remember telling the nurse to test me five more times. I was so shocked – this could not be my result.
In Kenya, HIV is seen as a death sentence so I didn’t think I would live long, and thought for sure I would infect my unborn baby.
To spare both of us, I decided to get an abortion. Fortunately, the nurse took me to meet mothers2mothers, a charity that employs HIV-positive women from the community as mentor mothers, who in turn support women like me by getting them the health advice and support they need.
Here, I met Rahab, who helped me understand that my diagnosis was not a death sentence. Crucially, she told me I could have an HIV-negative child.
She sat with me for as long as I needed and let me cry, while explaining what I needed to do to ensure my child would not be infected and that I could lead a healthy life, too.
Rahab was healthy, smart and had four HIV-negative children. I couldn’t believe she was also HIV-positive. She became my confidante, friend and sister.
The hardest part of my journey was sharing my status with my family. They didn’t have a lot of knowledge about HIV and separated the utensils I was using in the house; I had my own cup, plate and cutlery.
But then came the happiest moment of my life, when my son Giovanni – which means gift from God – was born HIV-negative.
He was the biggest ray of sunshine and the greatest reward after all my hardship. I wanted to help other HIV-positive mothers like myself and became a mentor mother, too.
Now, I educate women so they can make informed decisions about their sexual lives, stay healthy and feel understood, accepted and appreciated.
I know how important this is, and that is why I am now dedicating my life to it. I also used what I learned to educate my family about HIV, who started treating me like a human being again.
In a cruel twist of fate, Giovanni was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and died when he was only 14 months old. Words cannot describe the hurt.
I had put so much into ensuring that he was safe from HIV, only to lose him to this. I now draw on my heart-breaking experience when I talk to clients, to explain how painful it is for a mother to lose her child and why they must do everything they can to protect their unborn baby from HIV.
Today, I am part of a movement and team working to turn the tide against HIV in eight African countries, and helping women and their families be healthy.
I am living proof that a woman with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa can be a role model. My hard start to life has become a blessing for my entire community. And Rahab is still my very best friend.