Mentoring Mothers Living with HIV: Angelina’s Story
Stories@Gilead - August 18, 2022
When Angelina Namiba first learned she had HIV, she was in her early 20s and had graduated from college just six months earlier. Fear about her future quickly filled her mind.
“I remember wondering if I would ever reach the age of 30,” says Angelina. “Would I ever be able to have children? You know, I was a young woman and I wanted to have a relationship.”
Until Angelina’s friend introduced her to peer support groups, she thought she was the only woman in London living with HIV.
“For me, meeting my peers, women who were living with HIV and who also had children – that was a turning point for me,” Angelina says. “I needed that kind of support. It really helped me to cope back then.”
Fortunately, a lot has changed in the 29 years since Angelina first found out she was living with HIV. Having her daughter five years after her diagnosis also inspired her to push further. Angelina is one of the founding members of 4M Mentor Mothers Network, a Gilead grantee, that was started in 2016 to provide Black migrant women living with HIV in the United Kingdom a peer support system through the journey of pregnancy and beyond. 4M stands for: “My health, My choice, My child, My life.”
Providing Practical Support for Mothers Living with HIV
The mother network hosts a myriad of activities, from digital literacy webinars to professional development sessions. Mentors like Angelina provide one-on-one and group-based support and guidance, helping women work through not only their diagnosis, but challenges including housing instability and domestic violence. “It’s about mutual support. It’s not about telling women what to do,” she says.
4M Mentor Mothers Network also provides support to help improve treatment adherence. “For some people, it’s easy to take medicine and get on with life,” she says. “But for others, it’s a difficult, big deal.”
The team suggests practical strategies, such as using an alarm or timing medications to coincide with a meal. But sometimes, larger issues underlie behaviors. For example, taking treatment every day can be a daily, painful reminder for some that they have HIV. That’s where the group's support helps make a difference.
Besides mentorship, 4M Mentor Mothers Network collaborates directly with researchers, clinicians and organizations that deal with issues affecting women living with HIV.
Shifting the HIV Narrative
Angelina frequently writes and speaks publicly about her experiences living with HIV to help reduce stigma and create understanding around the virus and the importance of treatment.
“HIV is a really tiny virus. You can only see it under a microscope. Our lives are so much bigger than HIV,” Angelina emphasizes. “It doesn’t define who we are.”
By speaking out and serving as a spokesperson, Angelina knows she is making a difference in how people living with HIV are portrayed.
“A woman living with HIV is just like you and me. We’re sisters. We’re friends. We’re lovers. We’re taxpayers. We’re just like anybody else, like your friend walking down the street,” she exclaims.
Although issues such as access to care and health inequities remain, Angelina has seen treatment, prevention and even stigma improve significantly.
“We’ve come a very long way, and we have to celebrate that,” she says. “I am filled with hope for the future.”