Can you imagine newly arriving to the United States from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania as a happy, expecting 22-year-old newlywed to attend college and then finding out through a routine prenatal visit that you are HIV positive? This is precisely what happened to Fortunata Kasege in 1997. What turned out to be a dream of coming to America to study journalism quickly turned into a nightmare when she discovered her HIV status.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” said Kasege. “I was shaking. I was screaming. They were basically telling me that I was going to die. Everything was really, really spinning around my head at that time. I had a high level of anxiety. I had deep depression.”
That was then. Today, life is measurably better for Fortunata Kasege.
Today I hung out on Google+ with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and had the opportunity to speak with and hear Kasege’s uplifting story of hope and survival. It’s moments when I hear true stories of those who have triumphed in the face of despair that I am humbled beyond words by their courage and drive to help others. Today Kasege is a HIV/AIDS advocate and ambassador who spreads the word of hope to other mothers who are also HIV positive. “I feel so lucky,” said Kasege. “I feel like I am the one who got the gift. I am the one who got this incredible gift to be a mom.”
Fifteen years ago all Kasege knew about HIV/AIDS is what she saw in her native Tanzania. When people contracted HIV/AIDS they rapidly died from the disease. “I come from a completely different world where people die from HIV,” Kasege remembered. “You just prepare yourself for the worst. I didn’t want to die at 22.”
In those days HIV/AIDS ravished the African continent. Little did Kasege know after her diagnosis that there was medication to treat her and prevent HIV transmission between she and her unborn daughter. Today Fortunata Kasege is doing well and is healthy. Her daughter, Florida, who is now a teenager, is HIV-free thanks to the medications Kasege received when she initially learned of her HIV status fifteen years ago.
Like Kasege, this Mother’s Day you can celebrate your mom and mothers around the world. Visit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation site, A Mother’s Fight, and leave a comment and tell them how your mom inspired you.
Much of yesterday’s Women Deliver 2013 conversation centered around education for girls. Without at least a primary education girls in poor and middle income countries cannot properly contribute to their country’s economy nor to their household.
Girls who are fortunate to prolong marriage are able to attend school longer than if they are married away by their family. Being married off instead of staying in school poses a huge challenge because once girls are married off it becomes increasingly difficult for them to become educated. And, girls face the often insurmountable challenge of having children even though they are not properly equipped to deliver a baby causing many to die during childbirth. In fact, the number one cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 – 19 is childbirth says the World Health Organization.
According to UNESCO 66 million girls are out of school globally. Just last week I was in Delhi and time and time again we heard that while boys are often allowed to go to school and encouraged to do so (unless they are street children) girls are often discouraged from going to school and instead are needed for domestic duties or to help their families scratch out a living in the family business whether that is selling vegetables on the side of the road or being hired out as domestic help. Girls as young at 14 can work as domestics in India.
When girls are not educated everyone suffers. Countries suffer from an inadequate workforce. It also leads to a continuum of poverty for many families where girls grow into women who are illiterate with little to no skills. A girl’s education provides a 20% increase in income for them over their lifetime per the World Bank. Additionally, educated mothers are twice as likely to send their children to school.
When we were in India last week we saw many girls in the schools we visited. It is my hope that those girls are able to continue their education and graduate. Education is one of the silver bullets for a better future for them.
The World Health Organization released its annual World Health Statistics report. In the report the WHO looked at all of its global regions to see how countries fared in various global data stats including maternal and child mortality, life expectancy, and health coverage as examples.
“Intensive efforts to achieve the MDGs have clearly improved health for people all over the world,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “But with less than 1000 days to go to reach the MDG deadline, it is timely to ask if these efforts have made a difference in reducing the unacceptable inequities between the richest and poorest countries.”
Neonatal Mortality Rate: 47 per 1000 live births in 1990; 32 per 1000 live births in 2011
Under Five Mortality Rate: 114 per 1000 live births in 1990; 88 per 1000 live births in 2000; 61 per 1000 live births in 2011
Specific Causes of Mortality: In India pneumonia and prematurity claims the greatest lives for children under the age of five
Infectious Diseases: By far the greatest infectious disease in India is tuberculosis with 1,323,949 cases in 2011.
Health Coverage: India has a 21% unmet need for family planning and 55% contraceptive coverage. India has 75% antenatal care coverage with one visit. That percentage drops sharply to 50% with four visits. Only 58% of women in India give birth with a skilled birth attendant.