A student who inherited HIV from her mother has spoken of her relief after giving birth to a healthy son.
Paida Mutopo, 20, from Rochdale, was told she was HIV-positive when she was just 11 and feared she would never have children for dear of passing it on herself.
But advances in treatment have mean the amount of the virus in her system is now undetectable – and she can lead a normal, healthy life.
She was also able to take medication to reduce the risk of giving the virus to her children.
Five months ago, she gave birth to her son Kai and was thrilled when tests confirmed he was free of HIV.
She is sharing her story as she is keen to teach the world that HIV is no longer a ‘death sentence’.
‘When I found out I was pregnant I was so scared and at the same time I was so excited,’ she said.
‘When I found out I was HIV positive, I never thought I was going to have a child and that was something I wanted in my life.
‘If he had been positive I would have felt so bad, I would have just blamed myself.’
But she said once she received the letter confirming his clean bill of health she was ‘so happy’.
She added: ‘I don’t think I would have been able to live with myself if I had found out he was HIV positive.’
Advances in HIV medication mean that Paida only has to take three tablets a day.
In the UK, transmission of HIV from mother to child is almost entirely preventable through screening, and careful management during pregnancy.
In addition, appropriate antiretroviral therapy, management of how the baby is delivered and avoiding breastfeeding reduces the risk of transmission.
Doctors believe Paida, originally from Zimbabwe, contracted the condition from her mother Mavis – who had no idea she had the virus until her daughter was diagnosed.
As well as having to deal with the shock of her own diagnosis, Mavis was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt.
She said: ‘It was a huge shock, especially since so many relatives had passed away from HIV in Zimbabwe.
‘It was very difficult and I was constantly asking myself “What should I do? Should I kill myself and Paida?”
‘I passed it on to my daughter, unknowingly, but that sense of guilt, it’s always in you – you know if she’s not well, you’re thinking “it’s because of me”.’
Mavis says she was advised not to tell her daughter straight away, waiting until she was 11 and settled in England to break it to her.
Feeling frightened and isolated, Paida began misbehaving in class and quickly spiraled into depression and fell prey to bullying.
Paida said: ‘My life changed a lot, when I would get to school I could be walking in a corridor full of people and I would just hear someone shout “HIV” or “die”.
‘It was pretty hard because my age group didn’t understand it, and no-one wanted to be near me, they just seen me like I’m disgusting or something.
‘Before that I used to share food and drinks with my friends, but after that, they would rather stay away from me.’
Tired of living a secret life, Paida decided to ‘come out’ as HIV-positive on social media aged 16.
She said: ‘I felt so relieved that I wasn’t hiding anything any more.
‘There was nothing for me to be paranoid about, I could just speak about HIV so openly, that people know about me without anyone saying “have you heard that girl, she’s got HIV”.’
Paida has now set her sights on going to university to study social work to help build a right future for her and Kai.
She also uses social media platforms like Facebook and Snapchat to challenge the stigmatisation of HIV patients, joining the likes of Prince Harry who in July took a HIV test to raise awareness about the condition.
Paida said: ‘I want to one day wake up and know there is no more stigma surrounding HIV and I was the cause of that, for the stigma to go, that is my dream so I hope one day I will achieve it.’
Dr Katherine Ajdukiewicz, consultant in infectious diseases at North Manchester General Hospital, says the stigma attached to HIV is still one of the biggest issues preventing people from getting tested.
Dr Ajdukiewicz said: ‘I think the campaigning that Paida is doing is absolutely fantastic.
‘The life expectancy of someone living with HIV Is now comparable with the rest of the population, which is certainly not what it was when I started working in this field.
‘We’re living in the shadow of the “don’t die of ignorance” era of the mid-eighties and we haven’t gone beyond that yet, so the more individuals like Paida can do to increase awareness the better.’