Beyond the Stigma: Allisah’s Journey from HIV Diagnosis to Motherhood

May 2024

Allisah is excited about Jamaica’s certification of having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis, and she has every right to be.

Diagnosed at just eight months old, Allisah has lived with HIV for almost her entire life. Born healthy, Allisah contracted the virus from her mother through breastfeeding. It wasn't until a hospital visit for a blood test that the diagnosis was revealed. Both Allisah and her mother were swiftly put on antiretroviral treatment to manage their condition, which they continue to take to this day.

Throughout her adolescence, Allisah remained oblivious to her HIV status, but she wondered why she had to take medications daily. However, her mom attributed this to a respiratory condition, for which she encouraged her to remain compliant. "I was taking medication every day but after a while, I got tired of taking them and flushed them down the toilet," Allisah confessed. But her health soon deteriorated, resulting in multiple hospital admissions. It wasn't until she was 16 that a relative disclosed her HIV status, a revelation that shook Allisah's world and left her grappling with its implications for her health and social life.

Living with this secret burden, Allisah navigated high school cautiously, always careful to hide her condition from friends and classmates. "I didn’t feel I could trust them," she explained. "So, when I had to take my medication, I would just go off and take them in secret." As Allisah got older, rumors about her and her mother’s HIV status started circulating in her community; however, she remained resilient in the face of discrimination and stigma.

After leaving high school, Allisah contemplated her future, particularly finding a partner who would accept her HIV status. That opportunity arose when she met a supportive man who, after learning the truth, chose to continue their relationship despite his negative status. Several years into their relationship, they decided the time was right to start a family. All this time, Allisah consistently took her medication to ensure the virus in her body remained undetectable. This meant that her partner too remained HIV negative. Some months later, Allisah found out she was pregnant. "I was happy when I got pregnant, but I was also worried about my baby and if she would have to live with HIV too," she shared. However, she knew that once the virus was undetectable in her body, she could deliver a baby who was HIV free. Armed with this knowledge, Allisah was determined to do all she could to protect the health and wellbeing of her unborn child.