“HIV saved my marriage”

Cecelia Sitshaka learned she was HIV-positive in 2002, married and pregnant with her second born. Since then she has saved her unborn child from the virus and salvaged a marriage that was on the rocks.

“The counsellor told me, ‘Cecelia, you are positive.’ I was so shocked. I closed my eyes and said, ‘tell me again.’ I can’t explain how I was feeling, I was angry at everything, I said to myself. ‘It is my husband that brought this to me.’ I am going to be sick and die, so will my baby. I was scared for my firstborn, he was still very young.”


Cecelia decided to rebuild her life. The first hurdle was to share the news with her husband, a task that required all her inner strength. The confidence that the virus demanded out of her, allowed her to shirk off the excruciating yoke of her husband’s physical, emotional and psychological abuse. “HIV saved my marriage,” she says.

The stigma associated with HIV in the lives of mothers such as Cecelia results in many HIV-positive mothers-to-be to fall through the cracks in the healthcare system. Medical interventions targeted at the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), often fail because HIV-positive women fail to access treatment. Through an HIV/AIDS and PMTCT education and support program, Cecelia’s second child was born free from HIV.

The estimated number of South Africans infected with the virus by year end 2005, was in the region of 5.5 million, according to the UNAIDS annual survey based on figures on the prevalence among women diagnosed at public antenatal clinics. Women account for more than half (58%) of adults living with HIV/AIDS.

Refusing to be a statistic

For 33-year-old Cecelia, refusing to be a statistic was the beginning of a long journey of a thousand miles. She would not quit on her children, family and ill-informed community. “I have been involved actively in the community, I have become like a social worker. People come to me for advice, they have seen me on TV and have often disclosed to me.”

Through talks and outreach projects she has become an icon in her Khayelitsha community. In March 2006, Cecelia was a special guest of the then US First Lady, Laura Bush, at a function in the White House East Room. Cecelia was asked to address all of the distinguished guests and diplomats in attendance and for this she received a standing ovation.

The woman Cecelia is now, is certainly not the woman that she was. She has overcome immense adversity, and leaves many humbled by her positive aura. Her marriage and family changed. She is a mother of two healthy babies, her husband has turned full-circle, even going as far as seeking advice from her on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ARVs).

Now Cecelia’s sights are set on a tertiary course in training and development. She is happily married and continues to inspire those closest to her.

Do you know of a mother or father living positively with HIV? Do you think enough is done to keep parents informed about HIV prevention?

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