Sweeta and her husband Sarthak represent the sort of success story that make all the long hours and the big caseloads for community health counselors all worthwhile: both are HIV-positive, while their only son, Sartha, is negative.
Sweeta’s first husband didn’t tell her about his HIV status before they got married; in fact, he didn’t do so until he started suffering from TB and having symptoms of AIDS. He died within six months, and Sweeta tested HIV-positive soon afterward.
Her husband’s relatives – and even her own family – offered little support, so Sweeta was very much alone and unsure about what she should do next. Luckily, she was receiving treatment at a government hospital where she heard about the Positive People Network, an association of HIV-positive adults. “I found out about a group within the Network where people come together for the purpose of marriage,” Sweeta said. “They introduce themselves to each other, and see if it’s suitable.”
It was here that Sweeta met her future husband, Sarthak, who also is HIV-positive; the two lived in different districts, and probably never would have met otherwise. Earlier, Sarthak had made the difficult decision never to marry because he didn’t want to transmit the virus – but their relationship blossomed, and they soon decided to become husband and wife.
Sweeta quickly got pregnant twice, but miscarried both times; understandably, Sarthak became more hesitant about trying again. They were both HIV-positive. Who knew what unforeseen hardships their lives would encounter? “Why do you want to become pregnant?” Sarthak asked Sweeta. “Maybe the baby will get infected.” Sweeta understood his reluctance and the uncertainty of trying again, but she was willing to take the chance because she learned that she would have access to medicines that could prevent the transmission of HIV to her child.
At 14 weeks of pregnancy, Sweeta began receiving antiretroviral medicine; throughout her pregnancy, she never missed a dose, and came for follow-up appointments every month. When she began feeling the baby move inside her, Sweeta became optimistic. She delivered Sartha without complications, and decided to breastfeed him. At six months and again at 18 months, the baby tested negative – to the great joy of Sarthak and Sweeta.
“Since the beginning my family has been very supportive of me,” says Sarthak. “They helped me a lot. They never stigmatized me, they never isolated me. They cooperated with me a lot. All of my neighbors were cooperative, too. They never stigmatize me either.”
“Now we are very happy, because we have a family and our baby is negative,” says Sweeta. “All the struggles we faced in our lives, our baby will never face. We were supported, we received medicine at the appropriate time, and our baby is negative!”
Does the baby’s name, Sartha, mean anything?
“Fulfillment,” they reply in unison.