Case study

A chance to plan for the future

Finding out her HIV positive status helped Esnart get her life back on track

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Esnart Mwila from Zambia lost her husband and first child to HIV and AIDS. Finding out she was HIV positive herself enabled her to plan for her future.

Esnart is the seventh child in a family of 14 children. Soon after her father married his fifth wife, Esnart noticed he started to lose weight. He became so ill that he was unable to care for his family, and they had to move in with her uncle.

Becoming dependents was hard and in order to help support the family Esnart was forced to have a boyfriend. Unprotected transactional sex was the norm during their relationship where condom use was difficult to negotiate.

Esnart soon fell pregnant and was forced to marry the man she was seeing. Later that year she gave birth to a boy.

However, her son soon fell ill with a stomach abscess and died. At this time Esnart did not know what these medical terms meant and so just accepted what the doctor had told her about the cause of her child’s death. Soon afterwards her husband also became ill and he too died. In the same year her father and mother also passed away. 

Getting her life back on track

Having lost both her parents, her husband and her son, Esnart became very depressed. Despite these difficulties she slowly started to turn her life around. She decided going back to college was a positive step to get her life back on track.

During a day at the library, Esnart saw a book titled HIV and AIDS: related illnesses, and out of curiosity picked it up. On reading this book, she realised that the AIDS-related illnesses and opportunistic infections listed in the book were the same illnesses that had killed her parents, husband and son.

She also read that the only way to be sure of your HIV status is to go for a HIV test. Esnart immediately went for a HIV test at the local testing and counselling clinic, and was later told that she was positive. Esnart now speaks of her relief in finding out she was HIV positive, as knowing her status meant she had a chance to plan for the future.

Since finding out her HIV positive status, Esnart became motivated to become an advocate and peer educator, raising awareness about HIV and AIDS and encouraging people to protect themselves and know their HIV status.

She didn’t immediately include her own personal story in her advocacy and education work. She found it difficult to disclose her status to her family and friends due to the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Esnart fell in love and began a serious relationship with a man she had met in Lusaka. To her surprise after they had been courting for some time, he sat Esnart down and told her he was HIV positive. 

This was naturally a huge relief for Esnart, as at the time she was unaware of re-infection. This would have been the perfect opportunity to disclose her own status, but she was still too frightened of the consequences and married her husband without sharing her story.

Three weeks after their wedding, Esnart fell ill. Her husband insisted that they both have a HIV test together as a couple. Esnart was forced to accept and they went through voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services together. It was to no surprise when Esnart’s test came back positive once again.

With a CD4 count of 145 Esnart was immediately put on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). After a year she discovered that the treatment she had been put on was not the quality treatment she needed. She therefore demanded to be put on the right treatment, and soon began to feel healthy.

Starting a family

Leading a normal healthy life again, Esnart wanted to have a child. As a couple, Esnart and her husband sought medical advice and Esnart became pregnant.

Although she made sure they took all the measures necessary to guarantee her child was born HIV negative, a HIV test still needs to be done at six, 12 and 18 months after birth.

Esnart’s baby girl Jasmine is now 18 months old and has just undergone the last HIV test necessary to ensure Mother-to-Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV did not occur. The test came back negative. Jasmine is HIV free.

Although Esnart was once one in a family of 14, she is now 1 in a family of five. Nine of Esnart’s siblings have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Esnart has shown that it is possible to live a normal healthy positive life with HIV, and also give birth to a child free from HIV due to the quality treatment she received through programmes provided by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Esnart is now an ambassador for the Global Fund and has a passion to share her life story as a young lady living with HIV on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) with a HIV negative child.

She has also encouraged her entire family to have voluntary counselling and testing (VTC). Esnart now works as a facilitator for TALC and a trainer for the Peace Corps.

Unite to Fight AIDS speaker tour

Esnart has been touring universities and schools in the UK as part a of the Student Stop AIDS Campaign speaker tour, powered by Restless Development. 

The tour brings the voices of three young people affected by HIV or AIDS from across the world to talk first-hand about why tackling the spread of AIDS is so essential.

Published 1 December 2010